What a great time for me to start playing soccer – with World Cup fever abound! Watching these incredible players from so many corners of the world has certainly inspired me to continually improve my game. (Did I mention I scored two, yes, TWO goals last Friday night? What a feeling to see that ball go into the net).
The World Cup is about so much more than soccer, however. With such varied countries represented, from the obvious giants of Brazil, England, and France to smaller countries like Togo, Tunisia, and Serbia and Montenegro, (SIX continents are represented!) the spirit behind the game is one of unity, respect, and sportsmanship. It’s so great to see, at the end of each game, players from opposite teams embracing, congratulating one another, and taking the shirts off their backs to exchange them in honor of their lively competition.
While preparing to watch the match between England and Portugal, I listened as captains from both teams read, in their native tongue, a statement about eliminating racism and discrimination of all kinds, and how, as an international competition and with the influence of ‘football’ around the world, they could do their part to help end hatred and violence. You see, it’s so much more than a sport for true lovers of the game.
ALERT: Start soapbox
It’s a shame that the U.S. does not embrace this international competition more fully. Watching the earlier games when the U.S. team was still in the running, you could feel a sort of distance from the other teams. Our country (rightly so) is not seen as a dominant force in the sport (add this to some worldwide opinions of our president, and we are not the most admired country). Perhaps if we supported and nurtured our players for their skills and gifts as citizens in the other countries do, they’d be more inspired to raise their game. Don’t get me wrong – it’s impressive that the U.S. even qualified to compete in the World Cup matches. One hundred and ninety-eight countries attempt to with only 32 succeeding. However, I can’t help but feel that our players over there in Germany weren’t feeling the support from back home that the other countries do. Heck, the leader of Ghana declared a national half-day for the entire country so everyone could watch their team take on Brazil. Now, that’s support!
Do I think the U.S. will ever rally behind soccer like we do baseball? Probably not. But, let’s at least learn from the level of sportsmanship exhibited and the absolute requirement of respect for every player. In the World Cup, shove an opponent and you’ll be tossed from the game immediately. There’s not a whole lot of room for huge egos or attitudes. Imagine if a hockey game was just that – a game – and not a series of fights with a game peeking through every now and then.
So, even if you are not a fan of soccer, I encourage you to watch a game or two if only to observe the spirit behind the game. You can find the schedule here.