Get­ting kicks out of a strug­gle with soc­cer

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By KURTNAGL

As an Amer­i­can, es­pe­cially af­ter the United States beat Ghana in this year’sWorld Cup, I feel guilty ad­mit­ting I could re­ally care less about soc­cer. Al­though some Amer­i­cans en­joy the sport, I am not alone inmy in­dif­fer­ence to­ward it.

I skyped with a buddy from back home a few days ago in a Bei­jing cafe, and we talked sports for a good hour. As two loyal sports fans, we hit all the im­por­tant points.

“Did you see the Ger­man ab­so­lutely dom­i­nate the field at theUS Open?”

“How about them San An­to­nio Spurs?”

“Our beloved Detroit Tigers are los­ing mo­men­tum, eh?”

Not once was soc­cer even men­tioned. In­fact, Ihad­for­got­ten all about the World Cup un­til I strolled out of the cafe and was show­ered with re­minders of the planet’s most pop­u­lar sport.

Aroundmy apart­ment, ev­ery al­ley­way is laced with flags from com­pet­ing na­tions. Ban­ners and stick­ers clut­ter sub­ways, buses and busi­ness win­dows. Bars are packed with peo­ple­watch­ingth­egamesthat will dom­i­nate screens for a month.

China did not even qual­ify for the tour­na­ment. The first and only time the coun­try qual­i­fied was in 2002, and the team failed to score a sin­gle goal.

Yet China has the high­est num­ber of World Cup view­ers in the world, ac­cord­ing to the FIFA Tele­vi­sion Au­di­ence Re­port. In 2010, the coun­try ac­count­ed­for328mil­lion of the to­tal 2 bil­lion view­ers of the tour­na­ment.

Mean­while, many Amer­i­cans­donoteven­knowthe rules of the “beau­ti­ful game”, much less how the­World Cup works. For the 2010 World Cup, US view­er­ship to­taled only about 3 per­cent of the world to­tal even though the coun­try qual­i­fied for the tour­na­ment.

Many con­sider soc­cer to be bor­ing be­cause 90-plus min­utes of play of­ten re­sults in only one or two goals or, even worse, a tie. For those who are fix­ated on con­stant ac­tion, a hand­ful of points each game is just not worth the ef­fort of watch­ing for so long.

Soc­cer play­ers are not idol­ized the same way as some sports stars in the United States. Whereas soc­cer is more team-ori­ented, Amer­i­cans of­ten like to watch bas­ket­ball and Amer­i­can foot­ball games for the stand­out su­per­star of the team.

The main rea­son Amer­i­cans are com­par­a­tively im­par­tial to soc­cer is the same rea­son other coun­tries are in love with it: cul­ture.

Amer­i­cans grow up with base­ball mitts on one hand while the other shoots jump shots and tosses foot­balls. It is prac­ti­cally law for par­ents to share at least one of Amer­ica’s pas­times with their chil­dren.

Child­hood days are of­ten spent play­ing pick-up sports with kids from around the neigh­bor­hood. Claim an empty lot, run around un­til ex­hausted, then go home to fall asleep and re­peat the cy­cle.

I imag­ine the scene looks quite a bit like scenes else­where in the world. The only dif­fer­ence be­ing the ball that brings the kids to­gether.

Someof the best timesAmer­i­cans have are dur­ing huge sports events such as the Su­per Bowl or World Se­ries. Friends and fam­ily gather to eat, drink and cel­e­brate as though it were a hol­i­day.

I imag­ine that scene, too, plays out else­where in the world. The only dif­fer­ence be­ing the chan­nel on the tele­vi­sion screen.

It seems the World Cup is less about soc­cer than it is about shar­ing time with loved ones and dis­play­ing pride for one’s na­tion — a tra­di­tion that lives strong every­where in the world in one form or an­other. Con­tact the writer at fea­tures@chi­

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