24 June 2010

the world cup.

Being here in DC for the World Cup is a strange sensation. Despite the age-old stereotype that Americans couldn't care less about soccer, people here are interested - bars were packed for the USA v England game, crowds gathered in Dupont Circle to watch on an outdoor screen (someone bothered to get the permits for that. Sure, he was an immigrant, but still - he expected enough people to turn up to make it worth his while). My personal favorite was the gang of men dressed in Revolutionary War uniforms marching through the circle and waving a giant flag.

But the best part? All the psuedo-political discussions of this rising trend in American interest in soccer and where it's going. Why we don't like soccer as a nation is an old topic (my personal theory: draws). Americans like dramatic, at-the-buzzer victories (like Donovan's goal), winners, and gloating. We'll happily sit through long, boring games with only fleeting moments of action (baseball, anyone?) or fast-paced/limited scoring sports (hockey?) as long as we can taunt our friends afterward. Otherwise, what's the point?

But as to why we're on board today and whether or not we'll be after the finals...here's an excerpt from Slate's "Dispatch from the US's Amazing World Cup Win over Algeria:"

Soccer may be the only sport left that allows us to be exuberantly and guiltlessly patriotic, which is perhaps why some progressives have trouble supporting the U.S. team. We can get away with such outpourings of nationalism because, in soccer, we're not a superpower. Imagine dressing up like Captain America and screaming your head off at a USA-Algeria basketball game. Not cool. But American soccer fans do scream. They bedeck themselves in flags and elaborate costumes. A national team game now looks like a cross between Carnival and a Revolutionary War re-enactment. And, thanks to Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and the rest of the U.S. national team, this wacky party will roll through South Africa for at least a few more days.
This is why I love the Olympics - unbridled, good-natured patriotism. Even Foreign Policy is in on the fun, suggesting that our attitude towards new sports is based on how well our team is doing. The Olympics are a great example - how many people cared about competitive swimming before Michael Phelps started collecting gold medals like discarded pennies? It's a bandwagon phenomenon - sure, no one knew Landon Donovan's name on Monday, but that doesn't make his goal any less thrilling or the victory any less sweet.
In this approach, the casual sports fan is using a strategy of "rational ignorance" -- i.e., not caring until the team is sufficiently successful. This is the kind of thing that political scientists tend to understand, but sports and politics junkies reject as somehow not representing true fandom. But it is how most people think about most things in life most of the time.
So true. But back to work for now. Despite not watching a single qualifying match leading up to this game, I'll be in a bar on Saturday afternoon, decked out in red, white, and blue and cheering for my country.

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