Getting kicks out of a struggle with soccer

Updated: 2014-06-20 07:20

By Kurt Nagl (China Daily)

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As an American, especially after the United States beat Ghana in this year's World Cup, I feel guilty admitting I could really care less about soccer. Although some Americans enjoy the sport, I am not alone in my 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 the US Open?"

"How about them San Antonio Spurs?"

"Our beloved Detroit Tigers are losing momentum, eh?"

Not once was soccer even mentioned. In fact, I had forgotten all about the World Cup until I strolled out of the cafe and was showered with reminders of the planet's most popular sport.

Around my apartment, every alleyway is laced with flags from competing nations. Banners and stickers clutter subways, buses and business windows. Bars are packed with people watching the games that 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 accounted for 328 million of the total 2 billion viewers of the tournament.

Meanwhile, many Americans do not even know the rules of the "beautiful game", much less how the World 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.

Some of the best times Americans 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.

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 Getting kicks out of a struggle with soccer

Soccer fans in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, dress up to cheer their favorite teams at this World Cup. Dong Jinlin / For China Daily

(China Daily 06/20/2014 page20)