The World Cup
There is a little tournament going on in Russia that is set up to determine the best team in the world, that can kick a round ball for 90 minutes and occasionally score. Countries from all over the world have sent the best strikers, midfielders and goalies to compete for a trophy modestly called The World Cup. Passing, tackling, shooting and diving are the most important skills for participants to demonstrate during this grueling month long tournament. The evidence of players over reacting to a gentle push or shove, have become legendary on the internet. As each countries representatives try to help their country win a game, the art of diving (faking an injury) has reached acting levels, that the members of the Academy Awards can only wish their actors could achieve, in this year’s cinematic performances.
Players have learned to collapse, roll around in agony, play dead or grab their ankles writhing with unspeakable pain, to let the referee know that an opponent has touched them inappropriately, like an altar boy in a priest’s vestibule. Referees have to make a decision every time the casualties of a game lie contorting on the playing field. Decision One: Ignore the player. Decision Two: Give a yellow card to the offender. Decision Three: Give the offender a red card eliminating them from the game. Decision Four: Give both players a deck of cards, to play a quick game of black jack to determine the winner and loser of the offence.
Most of North America refers to this sport as Soccer. The audience participation is very minimal in our area, because Basketball, Baseball, Hockey and a sport we call Football dominate the eyeballs of the population here. People in the new world do embrace their heritage for a few weeks every four years.
As the countries are slowly eliminated from the World Cup, flags on cars from Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Iceland (whose population is slightly larger than Oakville Ontario) and Spain quickly disappear. People put rush orders at Ancestry.com to research their roots, as they desperately try to figure out whom to root for during the final games as countries of origin are eliminated. New flags display the occupant’s heritage as drivers with distant traces from Uruguay, England, Croatia, or South Korea drive through the traffic.
Drivers appreciate all the Asian flags, as that allows all to know where the bad drivers are located. My attempt at humour here has crossed a line for the Germans, as they have no sense of humour. Now the French were just offended, as they rightfully believe that mime is the only true expression of humour. Now the British were just offended as the believe Mr. Bean and Benny Hill are the only funny people on the planet. The Scottish won’t respond to this as they are known to be so cheap, they won’t even pay attention. Now the Americans are offended because everything offends the Americans. All the Canadians are offended because we have yet to apologize for what I wrote. I believe I have captured enough of the irrational national stereotypes here to offend most of you. Thankfully the one group who will not be offended by this are my own Irish relatives, because as you know, the Irish are drunk most of the time, which makes their reading comprehension limited to bathroom graffiti and limericks. (In a rare moment of sensitivity to culture did you notice I didn’t mention Italy here, as I try to avoid a mob hit.)
Back to the soccer tournament (as I continue to offend every other country outside of North America). There is an overt demonstration of pride and nationalism that is hard to ignore during this tournament. Heritage is honoured as families connect around a television hoping their nation will win. Since there are 32 teams and only one winner, 31 countries will live with despair and disappointment. Many will express this by blaming the referees who missed crucial “obvious” calls. Some will just accept that their county’s team made them proud and did the better than they had hoped. A few of the more fanatical supporters, will roll around on their front lawn for hours, until they are awarded a penalty shot.
Sport is regional. As stated previously, your origins determine your exposure to games. Non North Americans will be surprised to learn what poplulates the list of the top ten sports in the world. Beyond Soccer (#1), Cricket (#2), Field Hockey (#3) and even Table Tennis all dominate the popular forms of professional sports on our planet.
To support this I will share a story, that is painful to read, but believe me, much more painful to tell. Many years ago after finishing school, I backpacked across Europe for 6 months. My friend’s grandparents lived in the east end of London, and that was our home base for the trip. One night his grandfather woke us up at four in the morning with a very excited English accent. He encouraged us to come downstairs to share an important sporting event. The Tournament of Ashes, a cricket event between England and Australia was being played that morning.
As we descended down the narrow stair case of his war home, we could hear the radio playing. British announcers were enthusiastically describing the play of the game. For those unfamiliar with cricket (which includes me), the game can last for days.
My friend’s grandfather made tea, pushed three chairs closer to his static tube radio, and we all settled in for a long listening of cricket play by play. At that moment I came to a stark realization that the next four hours of my life would resemble root canal performed with a screwdriver and wrench. I was about to listen to a sport I did not know. Commentators were saying words, like “wicket”, “bowling” and “test match” as they droned on about the game. Grandfather shared his own insight as I tried to stab my ears with a pencil. This tournament had been going on since the 1880s, but since it was in Australia this year, we had to get up early to hear it live.
If they had a television this might have been tolerable. Even I can watch an unfamiliar sporting event on TV, and kind of understand the concept and rules of the play. This is not true when trying to learn a new game over the radio. The more the broadcasters said about the game, the less I understood. Each phrase forced more questions, which our enthusiastic host was more than happy to answer. As time stood still there was certainly a lot of time to discuss every nuance and move that we pretended to be interested in all morning.
Sharing the viewing of sporting events with others can be an exciting bonding experience… but the listening skills of men tend to diminish this experience.
As I conclude this sporting commentary, the final game of the World Cup between France and Croatia will be played on the weekend. France is favoured to win, just like Argentina, Brazil and Germany were all favoured to win this tournament. There is also a Wimbledon final match being broadcast Saturday and Sunday, as Nascar fans will fight for control of the remote. Fan is a short form for fanatical. As the world enjoys a fanatical weekend let’s put things in perspective.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” – Bill Shankly, Liverpool manager on football.
Cue the Blong: Enjoy your weekend, but as the song says, no one wants to walk the dog.