The World Cup is upon us and Laura and I, along with the majority of the planet, are downright excited for the festivities to get underway! So this week, I recalled the first time I went to a soccer game and began to understand what it’s all about: September of 2006 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Below is my journal entry from that day. We’d love to hear from you. Are you a soccer fan? What was your first experience loving soccer? Who do you think will win the World Cup?
I never imagined my love for Monday Night ¨football¨ could ever survive while I lived in South America. But life has a way of allowing the good things to continue, even if in a completely different way. And so this past Monday I felt like I had fallen off the face of my own reality and into this incredible futbol environment I was witness to in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
My sports fans will appreciate this because I tell you what I saw that night was sport in its purest form. I paid $4 US and was privy to some of the best seats in the house: lowest level, center pitch (think 50 yard line my American Football fans)sitting on a thin sheet of styrofoam on a thick concrete slab.
During the game, not a single person that I could see left their seats. There were no food markets selling overpriced items of food, no kids play areas or guys trying to entice you to sign up for a credit card by offering something like a free towel, features so common in American ballparks and stadiums.
And the game was, intense. But more intense were the fans. Chants that seemed to be known by all but me were sung at the top of everyones lungs. People jumped up and down, danced, and gasped with every shot on goal. There were no eyes looking down, texting away on their phones. No, people came to this stadium on this cold night, for one thing and only one thing: To watch two teams battle it out in the most popular sport in the world.
I have always loved American football, and will continue to do so, but leaving the stadium that night, walking the jubilant streets of a city celebrating in the success of their heroes, I happened across a park where young kids in tattered and dirty clothes excitedly ran and laughed around a grassless pitch with a lopsided ball, focusing intently on the task at hand: to get that excuse for a ball through what they called a goal, two stones set up only feet apart. It was that night, more than ever, that I could not help but have a moment realizing why it was that futbol, soccer, or whatever you choose to call it is the unifying sport of the world. Americans tend to focus on the Olympics as the biggest world event of them, but consider this: 909.6 million people tuned in at some point to the 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands. The Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics? Close, but not at World Cup levels: 900 million.
So long as we live in a world where 75 percent of the population lives in developing nations, an escape from poverty is found in the simple things in life: somewhat flat land, two objects to compose a goal, and anything that passes for a round object and can be kicked.
After I became obsessed with soccer, I picked up a great book that blended my interest in politics, economics, and sports. For a great read during The World Cup, check out How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization