I have not been keeping up with my two posts a week target recently. Sometimes I struggle to keep going because I have ideas for posts that just take a lot longer to gestate than normal. There is just such a one brewing right now, but the main reason is that yet again, I have been sucked into the spectacle of sporting (and unsporting) contest that is the FIFA World Cup, also known as simply “the World Cup”.
It’s hard to think of sporting events with such broad global relevance. Association football, a.k.a. football, a.k.a. soccer, has top-level competitions in every continent and region, and even the weakest regions can produce teams who’ll give a contest to the best in the world (not win, you understand, but make the other team work for their victory). The Olympic Games attract the same global attention, and offer the same breadth of participation and contest, but I can’t think of anything else that is well-known enough to count as truly global. (Of course, maybe there are loads of global sports that aren’t widely reported in Britain.)
Soccer has never been my favourite sport; that honour goes to cricket (my favourite book about cricket is Ramachandra Guha’s A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport (it’s really a social history of India through the lens of the sport); my second favourite is “A Social History of English Cricket” – make of this what you will!)
Regardless of this bias, I inevitably find myself revelling in the coverage. Often the commentators (especially on ITV) bug me no end, but there is always something interesting. I love seeing which nations’ flags are represented in the crowd, observing the different behaviours of the different fan groups in the stands (and what slogans they have on their banners – if I can understand them), and the different styles of play (my father and I come from a background in which physical contact is to be relished – as long as it’s a good, honest challenge, not nasty or sly) and making up our own stories to explain what we see (the Mexican goalie against Brazil seemed to have a perpetually surprised expression, sort of, “This isn’t where I expected to be!” – so we theorised he wasn’t really the goalie but someone who’d been mistaken for him, put in the shirt and asked to keep goal. This conceit made his successes in the game even more enjoyable for us!)
So often in sports commentary, where one team is on a hiding to nothing, the commentators wonder why the fans are cheering little things. TO me, the answer is obvious: you pay that much money to watch a game, you want to get some enjoyment out of it, some emotion. So you cheer the little things because it’s fun to do, you sing self-deprecating songs because it makes you smile and laugh in the face of adversity. The sport is only a small part of the experience of watching a match in the stadium. Who cares that victory is impossible? So what if he’s let five in already? The goalie made a great save that time! (For example.)
In the World Cup, this goes even more so: one reason you see so many different national flags at matches is because (some) tickets are sold for the ties before you know which teams are in which groups, so you buy a ticket and don’t know which teams you’ll see play. You could get anyone. You take your flag along, and then cheer for whoever. I’ve seen flags from nations who didn’t even qualify! So you make your own enjoyment, and experience. I guess often you meet up with people who do support one side or the other, and make temporary friends to share the thrills and spills. Even watching on telly, I inevitably start to cheer for one team or the other. Who then invariably ends up losing. Of course I care, but the point, the reward, is the experience of caring; not the result itself. And ultimately, it’s inconsequential to me. It’s a safe way to win or lose (science says that habitual/addicted gamblers get the same reward signals in their brains when they lose as when they win).
So, I get sucked in. I admire the skills, I celebrate the collective experiences of the crowds, I find my own ways to gain little rewards and spikes. And that is worthwhile.
So, if I don’t post as often as usual for the next couple of weeks, you know why.