From cafes in Paris, to street markets in Nairobi, soccer (or football as its known in much of the rest of the world) is the topic of conversation for millions around the world. FIFA, soccer’s organizing body has enlarged the number of participating nations from 13 at the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 to 32 in the 2010 games. The hosting of the World Cup in South Africa is testament to the growing accessibility that is soccer around the world. No other sport has as large of a reach as soccer, and it provides opportunities for players from around the world to excel. Soccer is perhaps the most widely globalized aspect of world culture.
So why hasn’t it caught on in America? Soccer is perhaps the last real example of American isolation. . Sport is the one area in which American influence isn’t truly worldwide. America’s national pastimes, baseball and football have little reach across the globe. Although baseball and basketball stars have seen modest successes overseas, their fame is much more limited than global stars like Christian Ronaldo or David Beckham. It’s telling that a German, Ghanaian, and and a Guatemalan can all relate on a basic level about a subject that most Americans have little to no real awareness of. In a world where globalization has tied even the most improbable nations together, America stands alone yet again.
This isn’t to say soccer is a completely foreign to Americans; it’s just that it’s viewed in a much different light. In a large number of nations around the globe, soccer is the national sport. In America, it’s best known as a popular afterschool sport for school aged children. For much of America’s history, soccer has been an afterthought, trailing far behind baseball, football and basketball in terms of commercial popularity. The fact that millions of American children play soccer hasn’t quite translated to enthusiasm for major league soccer events.
That doesn’t mean Americans will always only associate soccer with AYSO (American Youth Soccer Association) games and SUV driving soccer moms. The phenomenon that is soccer is beginning to seep into the American psyche. The World Cup being staged in the United States in 1994, certainly helped bring Americans more awareness of the sport. The arrival of highly paid European players to the US’s Major League Soccer (including David Beckham’s $250 million five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy), show that investors believe that soccer can be a winner in America.
Whether you’re a sport fan or not, it might a good sign that more and more Americans are following soccer. It might help us become more connected with the world, or at least give us greater exposure to those outside our borders. Sports have always been a source of quiet diplomacy. America should use every chance it gets to engage other nations through peaceful means, and soccer is a great way to do that. Of course, soccer won’t bring world peace overnight but it’s a worthy goal.
I had the good fortune to have the ever sunny Brazilian singer/songwriter Jair Oliveira in the studio last September. Oliveira is the son of Jair Rodriguez, one of Brazil’s most beloved musical stars, and famous for his hit “Deixa Isso Pra La” which is arguably the first Brazilian hip hop song. For those you who follow the blog, you may remember at that time Oliveira sang a charming song he wrote for his baby daughter, called "Showertime."
He also sang a song about soccer, and suggested that I hold it in reserve for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa. Which I did. It’s a damned good song too.
Let the games begin!