The other day, I was talking to my friend Jimmy Drake about the World Cup. He LOVES it…and sports in general, actually. But his stance that this relationship isn’t always easy interested me. I asked him to share his thoughts with you on why and HOW you can choose to embrace, love and celebrate one of the greatest shows on Earth–The World Cup. As Team USA takes on Germany this afternoon, while at the same time protesters continue to riot just a stones throw away from the pitch, things have certainly reached fever pitch. Thanks so much for sharing, Jimmy, your analysis rings remarkably true. Enjoy!
World Cup Half Empty or Half Full
by Jimmy Drake
As we get older all kinds of things become more complicated. It’s a fact of life, but it’s become especially evident in my sports fandom. When I was a kid it was easy to root for my favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, and wear their logo proudly. However, as I grew older, I realized a picture of a screaming Indian and tomahawk chants are offensive to Native Americans. As a kid it was easy to get excited every time my favorite football player clobbered a defenseless receiver, but as I learned about the severity of concussions and brain damage my shouts and fist pumps turned to cringes. Or college basketball–growing up in Kentucky it’s a close second to Southern Baptist as the state’s dominant religion. But then you learn the NCAA generates millions of dollars as a “non-profit,” gives athletes a rushed and sometimes¹ even fabricated college education, and only offers their scholarships one year at a time. These situations bring up complicated emotions for any informed sports fan, but none present the biggest challenge to my compartmentalization skills as much as FIFA and the World Cup.
Before I explain how evil and corrupt FIFA is, I’ll explain how fucking awesome the World Cup is. First off, it’s soccer at a high level. The teams aren’t as good as you’d find in the Champions League or the Euro’s, but it means more than both of them. Soccer on it’s own can be beautiful and epic. The World Cup adds to this beauty and epicness by raising the stakes to an astronomical level. Just watch the video of Maradona in the 1986 World Cup. His goal is one of the more incredible things I’ve ever seen in sports, the moment magnified by the hopes of an entire nation.
And these hopes are the very reason Americans should enjoy the World Cup. Being a patriotic American is awesome, but given America’s current geopolitical standing, it’s difficult for me to to get all patriotic about wars, politics or international relations. Sports make it easy. I can chant “USA!USA!USA!USA!” and wave a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag without looking like an imperialist xenophobe. I can sing the national anthem with my hand over my heart without feeling like I’m being indoctrinated into nationalism. Events like the Olympics² and the World Cup are my only chance.
So the World Cup is awesome, that’s easy enough, but something sinister lies beneath the surface. FIFA is the Fédération Internationale de Football Association³ and it’s president, Sepp Blatter, is a villainous character straight out of a Disney movie, the kind of guy who suggests female soccer players wear shorter shorts to grow interest in their sport.
Countries find it an incredible honor to host a World Cup, so much so that they’ll change constitutions¹, pay millions of dollars in bribe money² and pour their own citizens tax money into stadiums that are rarely used once the whole shebang is over³ while these same citizens live in abject poverty. Okay, so that’s a pretty insane investment, but surely hosting a World Cup boosts the economy enough to have it all make sense. But FIFA operates as a non-profit. Any money they make in Brazil this year from endorsements, advertisements, ticket sales aren’t even taxable by the Brazilian government. So, while the rare rich hotel owner may profit the taxpayers investment isn’t returned at all. And locals are justifiably angry, storming the streets and protesting FIFA and all it stands for.
There is no solution I’ve found to this conundrum other than compartmentalizing the two sides. I hate how FIFA and the Brazilian government have handled the event but I love the spectacle of it. And soccer… isn’t FIFA. Soccer isn’t the Brazilian government. Players train their whole lives for a chance at this World stage and I will cheer them on…and I will cheer them on even louder if they’re from the USA. It’s just another complication of growing up and having to search harder for joy in a complicated world.
2. Summer only. Seriously the Winter Olympics are so boring, except hockey. I’m honestly surprised that the USA figure skating team isn’t selected by way of a America’s Got Talent style reality show.
3. Not just an awesome video game that helped get tons of American bros into soccer.
(Ed. Note: WordPress only let me “superscript” 1, 2, 3 so please excuse the repetition here.)