Soccer in the United States

Anglorama nr 2/2005 (30)

Soccer in the United States

Poprzez fakt, że kraj jest olbrzymi, podzielony na kilka stref klimatycznych, a jego mieszkańcy – pod wieloma względami zróżnicowani, wiele dyscyplin sportowych cieszy się za oceanem dużą popularnością. Do niedawna jednak nie zaliczano do tych popularnych tak powszechnej u nas piłki nożnej. Może jednak ta sytuacja wkrótce się zmienić.

The soccer situation in America is very complicated. The game is - as lots of fans decidedly claim, and as figures clearly demonstrate - the most popular in the world (in Europe it’s at least the number one sport and, in some countries, almost a religion). Because of its beauty, simplicity and unpredictability it enchants people and stirs deep emotions. However on American soil soccer has had a hard time for many years. From the very beginning soccer was always portrayed (and, consequently, considered by many) a culturally alien game, where there is little physical contact, too few goals and too little spectacularity. American people are accustomed to their `tribal` contact games, such as American football, which best appealed to their instincts, and so did not want to accept a `stranger` from Europe.

Soccer in the USA was badly viewed because of some of the untrue stereotypes stubbornly promoted by the media. First of all, Americans were still being persuaded and argued into the belief that soccer was a boring game, consisting in useless running, where hardly ever anything interesting happened and incredibly small number of goals was scored. Soccer matches requiring undivided attention for 45 minutes were considered strange as Americans were accustomed to frequent timeouts, during which they could enjoy sideline entertainment, as well as eat and drink.

Moreover, soccer was alleged to be not a „manly” sport but rather exercise for sissies, either too weak or sickly or too cowardly and devoid of ambition. And, although during some periods it was recommended as a good alternative to other (often violent) games and a come-back to a gentlemanly ideal of sportsmanship, it was accepted only as a sport good for a gym-class and did not create professional heroes who could be worshipped and emulated by young people.

Another stereotype concerning soccer was its un-Americanism. While sports like baseball, football or basketball were generally claimed to be American inventions, soccer was presented as a foreigner. But, to tell the truth, only basketball was invented in the U.S. (by a Canadian). Baseball is a game derived from English ball games (mostly rounders), while football evolved from different forms of British rugby.

Soccer was also announced un-American (or not enough American) because it was permanently tagged as an ethnic sport. It is true that the game is popular in some groups of people of foreign descent (like German, Italian or Mexican) but, after all, the whole U.S. community - apart from the Indians - is a nation of immigrants and if this ethnic stereotype changes it will also liquidate „soccer ethnicity.”

This unpopularity of soccer would be probably still be present in America if FIFA had not charged the United States with a very responsible task – the organization of the World Cup in 1994. The decision made in 1988 was part of strategy aimed at popularizing soccer in those parts of the world where “the game is neither well-known nor particularly liked”, and offered a positive image of the game to these countries.

One last frontier had to be crossed and a huge „crusade” started, prepared by FIFA to „conquer” the American continent. Soccer championships are sports events comparable only to the Olympic Games. World Cup games propagate soccer of the best quality and the top stars are excellent models to be emulated by young people. With this in mind, FIFA attempted to arouse American interest and make soccer part of their lives.

Many Americans worked hard to popularize the game, to prepare the championships as well as possible, and attract the richest sponsors. The campaign turned out to be a real success. As many as 27 cities wanted to host the World Cup games. Out of these, nine stadiums were chosen. The speed of the sale of tickets was also impressive. The only thing that was lacking was a good performance from the U.S. team.

Americans were doing amazingly well during the games, especially in their match against Colombia, which they won 2:1. The team – regarded as a band of „motley underdogs” from „soccer’s Third World” - got into the second round to be eliminated by Brazil, a candidate for the Cup.

The World Cup came and went „like a passing storm.” It left a profit of about sixty million dollars as all three and a half millions tickets had been sold. Soccer definitely became a less alien sport, but still, most Americans turned their liking back to other games after it was over. The victory over Colombia and the match with Brazil electrified America for a while and the players became heroes overnight. They were often invited to TV shows and the highlights of their games were shown over and over again.

The World Cup certainly managed, at least to some extent, to abolish some stereotypes attributed to soccer.The match with the biggest audience - USA-Brazil - gave the lie to an American perception that this curiously popular sport does not embrace as much potential for contact as home-grown competitive events. Definitely, a greater number of Americans became interested in - or at least acquainted with - soccer.There is plenty of evidence beyond the high TV ratings that the game has, at least momentarily, penetrated mainstream American culture.

After „the storm” had passed over, soccer began to be forgotten again. The popular papers started writing about other sports, giving soccer the go-by. The most talented players in the American team started job-shopping in Europe. Some of them even changed profession. American soccer has charted an aggressive course in excellence into the new millennium. The highly ambitious plan, Project 2010, aims at having the USA positioned as host and to win the World Cup in 2010.

Some statistics such as: the number of Americans playing soccer at least once a year - 17 million; sixty million dollars spent a year on soccer balls; and the fact that soccer is now the second most-popular participation sport for children under twelve, makes us feel more optimistic about the future of soccer in the U.S. Although there are some hidden dangers awaiting soccer in the U.S., one can hope this beautiful game, without perhaps outdistancing the other more traditionally American sports, will eventually become one of the most cherished and popular sports in the United States.

Michał Mazurkiewicz

unpredictability – nieprzewidywalność
to enchant – oczarować
soil – ziemia, kraj
tribal – plemienny, szczepowy
stubbornly – uporczywie
timeout – przerwa
sideline – dodatkowe zajęcie
sissy – baba, dziewucha; (o chłopaku) maminsynek
to eumlate – imitować, naśladować
tagged – nazwany, zaszufladkowany
descent – pochodzenie, rodowód
World Cup – Puchar Świata
motley – zbieranina
underdog – słabeusz, cienias
to attribute – przypisywac coś komuś / czemuś
to embrace – obejmować, zawierać
TV ratings – badania oglądalności TV
mainstream – główny nurt
give sb the go-by – zlekceważyć coś, kogoś

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