Wednesday, June 16, 2010

International Relations

When Ji Yun-Nam placed the Jabulani slightly over Julio Cesar's diving body, we jumped off of our bar stools and raucously applauded. We were the only ones. The rest of the half-full bar turned, registered their disdain, and pivoted back to the bank of televisions. It is apparently not socially acceptable to cheer for North Korea in a K Street bar. While it may be that the issue was cheering against Brazil as opposed to perceived support for Lil' Kim, it is more likely that rooting for them is interpreted as supporting all of the inhumane aspects of North Korea's governance.

I do not understand the need to infect enjoyment of the tournament with political considerations. But for this World Cup, Americans have managed to politicize the games to ridiculous levels. No surprise that commentators would publish the cliched "soccer will never be accepted in America" pieces (thank you Christine Brennan) and "soccer is boring" pieces (cheers Jon Chait), but the political attacks on the sport border on the hysterical. The Progress Report has gamely catalogued a number of the anti-soccer rants from conservative pundits.

The views of Glenn Beck are no more meaningful to me than the political allegiances of our dog or the political analysis of a LaRouche supporter. People might listen to him, but people listen to Hot Tub as well. Whether people think that soccer will catch on in the country or how they feel about the possibility that the sport's popularity will increase is irrelevant. It will either happen or it will not. But regardless of the bluster regarding the World Cup, folks who care about the question ought to cast their eyes elsewhere. Last Thursday, on the eve of the opening of the tournament, 36,146 people turned out to watch the Seattle Sounders host DC United. Those 36 thousand supporters sang and cheered throughout the match -- even when going three - zero down to a team at the bottom of the league table -- and were rewarded with an untiring and exceptional effort at a comeback late in the game.

Soccer games at Qwest Field defy conventional conceptions trotted about by critics of the sport: although it may seem to be mimicry of British football culture, Sounders supporters have created a fundamentally American approach to enjoying the game and do so in significant numbers. They set the standard for support in the country and if soccer "catching on" in the U.S. means that local clubs have the same impact on their towns as the Sounders do on Seattle, we are all better off.

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