Soccer may not be the most popular sport here at home, but take in a game -- and give the fans a listen while you're at it -- and you'll see why the sport is steadily making strides in North America. In fact, the sport now boasts more fans than Nascar, at least online, a new study finds.
The growing attention to the sport is harder than ever to ignore now that we are reaching the pinnacle of the World Cup and heading into the championship week. Not in on the excitement? Well, you should be. Even Desmond Tutu, a social rights activist and former archbishop, couldn't contain his enthusiasm when South Africa was chosen to host the World Cup in 2010.
"I promise to buy all FIFA executives first-class tickets to heaven," he said, per the Guardian. "But first I shall go outside and dance." If an archbishop gets that enlivened by a soccer tournament, it's about time to learn why the World Cup should matter to you.
Simply put, the Cup is a connector. "This Cup is a unique sporting conclave where we gather not just to witness the game at its greatest but as witnesses who validate that this is the greatest game," Rohit Brijnath writes at the Straits Times.
Some 46 per cent of the world's population tuned in to at least some live coverage of the last World Cup, "easily making it the most watched event around the globe," notes Bryan Melmed of research firm Exponential. Clearly, it brings people together.
It must be said, however, it can do the opposite. A Brazilian taxi driver apparently once kicked Italian striker Paolo Rossi out of his cab as revenge for Rossi scoring three goals to beat Brazil 3-2 during the 1982 World Cup.
Rivalries aside, it can't be denied that the World Cup evokes a passion in soccer fans different than that seen during English Premier League, Major League Soccer or even Champions League matches. For one month, it's not team versus team but nation versus nation. There are no rematches and no second chances unless you have the patience to wait four long, gruelling years.
Whereas professional leagues showcase the best of the best, the underdogs can shine, make history and burn a memory into the minds of millions of soccer fans at the World Cup. Alcides Ghiggia of Uruguay, who scored the winning goal versus Brazil in that country in 1950, once said, "Only three people have ever silenced 200,000 people at the Maracana with a single gesture: Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II and I."
You don't even need to be a soccer fan to feel the energy of the World Cup. "It reaches people who have no interest in football otherwise," Rio-based soccer journalist Tim Vickery explains to Sportsnet. "It reaches them at a profound level because it is their country and their people being represented in the eyes of the rest of the world."
But "unlike the Olympics," Nigel Reed, a commentator for CBC Sports, notes, "the World Cup is the only truly, single-sport global event." And that means the pressure's on. Don't feel it? Note that when England lost on penalty kicks against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, the number of heart attacks in Britain jumped 25 per cent. It's a game, yes, but it's so much more.
That's not to say that it's only seen through rose-coloured glasses. Scandals have already plagued this World Cup, including claims of fixed friendly matches. On top of that, bribery allegations have surrounded the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. So why does the event still resonate?
"Because despite the money management and football player millionaires, it's still a game that anyone can play with anybody anywhere," spoken word poet Hollie McNish explains. "The story of these games is much more than who will win them." Here, you may just see "the skill and the love snatch back the pen."
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