Thoughts On World Cup 2010

I love the World Cup for many reasons.  First, I love football (that’s right, I know it’s pretty highfalutin to force-feed you the word football rather than soccer, but I’m a shameless ass), and the World Cup is a magical time that only comes around twice a decade when football is regularly shown on TV.  Further, it’s a time when many, many Americans become football fans.  I hear people around the office talking about Tim Howard and John Terry when, usually, they would have no idea who these people are.  I imagine it is what it’s like for the American David Hasselhoff fan(s?) on his first trip to France.  For once in our lives, someone understands us!

Secondly, the World Cup is an event that unequivocally unites all countries on Earth.  Shit, most countries in the world won’t even talk to North Korea right now yet, at the end of a group-stage match, hugs and jerseys are still exchanged.  Football is a phenomenon around the world that acts as a reminder that no matter what our geography or ethos, we are all made from the same blood, sinews and desire to put a ball in the net then tear off our shirts and slide around on our knees.  Don’t just take it from me that football is the collective adhesive of all man, there’s plenty of examples and sources out there.  I recommend watching the movie Joyeux Noel, a true story about German, French and Scottish soldiers during World War 1, who decide on Christmas Day to call a one-day truce in order to play a friendly game of football.  Or, if you’d like to read one of the most interesting books in the world, check out the book How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, by Franklin Foer (http://www.amazon.com/How-Soccer-Explains-World-Globalization/dp/0066212340/)

Most of all, I love that the World Cup is always full of surprises, Cinderella stories, and gut-wrenching twists and turns.  This year, the most surprising story of the World Cup isn’t the one that everyone is talking about.  No, it’s not that fact that South Africa became the first host nation to fail in advancing past the Group Stage, and it’s not even the fact that the French team folded faster than…well, the French army in any war in which they’ve participated.  The most surprising element of this year’s World Cup involves the New Zealand team and their fans.  As I watched New Zealand outplaying Italy to a draw, I giggled to myself constantly.  It wasn’t because Italy was losing (maybe a little),  but rather because of the fans of the New Zealand squad. 

As the New Zealand rugby team is called the All Blacks (due to their all black uniforms), the New Zealand football team is obviously called the All Whites (due to their all white uniforms).  During the game, a huge portion of the crowd consisted of rabid, shirtless Kiwis waving scarves that simply read “All Whites”.  Now, at this point, take a second to imagine it: crowds of drunk (probably) New Zealanders walking up to the entrance of the stadium in post-apartheid South Africa saying “hey Mate, where’s the All White section?”   Holy Shit!  Alanis Morisette, as you seem to have trouble defining it correctly, THAT is ironic.  Of all places for the New Zealand All Whites to make the World Cup, it’s South Africa.  The only place that could compare in awkwardness would be anywhere in the American South (“Hey, Mate.  We brought our mascot, Jim the Crow…”). 

Frankly, I’m amazed that no one else seems to have noticed.  I watched the entire game, and never once heard anyone comment about it.  How did the awkwardness get past FIFA, or even Nelson Mandela?  Usually, since football is full of so many racist, asshole fans (or, as football fans call them, Italians), FIFA takes every precaution to avoid such an embarrassment.  To clarify, I’m very aware that the New Zealand fans are not using their team name and team gear as a racial statement, it’s simply a culture difference.  And that creates the question, should one country’s culture be sacrificed to avoid offending the people of other countries.  I don’t have an answer, or even an opinion.  I guess I believe that the World Cup exists to bring people from all over the planet in one place to celebrate, compete and gloat.  Most of all, it allows people an opportunity to broadcast their culture and their pride in their country.  With seven continents coming together, I guess some awkwardness is unavoidable, as is some humor (as long as you take time to appreciate both).

The most important things are, after a long wait, World Cup is again thriving, the US hasn’t yet been eliminated, and Italy hasn’t won any games.

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