Monday, June 28, 2010

Why Futbol Will Never Catch On

I generally love the game. For kids, it's better than baseball, which involves a lot of standing around. But watching the World Cup you can see the reasons why it's never going to make it with the American public.

The first and overwhelming reason is the officiating. There are bad calls in every sport, but in soccer, goals are rare. If you take one away or give one unfairly, it is not just an inconvenience which a team has to adjust to - it's the whole game. To get an equivalent impact in baseball, the umpires would have to get a fair/foul call wrong on a grand slam. Every day of the season. In football, basketball, or hockey, there is no equivalent. While a ref can blow a call in an NBA game that is 101-100 and give the game to the wrong team, notice that this is only in the context of two teams that have played incredibly evenly for four quarters. In soccer, where the entire point is to outplay your opponents enough to get ten good runs on the goal instead of four, hoping that the law of averages will mean that you get a goal, even if 50% of those involve some luck, a bad call gives the game to an inferior team. Often. The Argentine goal on a clear offside and the disallowed English goal are great examples. There were only four games. Two of them had horrible calls.

I grant that it's a hard game to officiate. So get more officials. Use replay. Go electronic. Whatever. With an average of 3 goals per game for the two teams combined, getting those three calls right should be the whole point of refereeing.

The preponderance of foreign names is an obstacle for Americans, sure. But baseball fans have been good at Hispanic names for decades. Hockey fans trip Slavic names off their tongues easily now. It's a contributing problem, but not overwhelming.

The flopping, as I recently noted, makes Americans crazy. Clint Dempsey has learned to flop in the international style, and I recognise why, but I can't say I'm exactly proud of him for it. Pierce and Rondo flop, but they don't lie on the court for three minutes moaning, then get back up and play full speed. Even the European basketball players - much better at flopping than the Americans - don't stoop so low.

The low scoring is an obstacle, especially when games are allowed to end in a draw. You can design your game any way you like, but I don't have to like it. West Ham ties Aston Villa nil-nil. Goodbye.

Soccer is world-wide popular because a lot of countries are poor. The fans played soccer as children because they had nothing else. The beauty they see in it is half nostalgia. I like the game, but then, I grew up on Wide World of Sports, watching wrist-wrestling, jai-alai, cliff-diving, and ski jumping once or twice a year and liking those, too. At least once in awhile.


Anonymous said...

The poverty explanation might be applicable to American sports as well. I don't think that America was necessarily a "rich" country in the early days of baseball. Many of the main sports evolved in poorer times.

"The beauty they see in it is half nostalgia."

I believe this is the main reason why people love their national sports in general. It's as simple as growing up with the sport(s), in a society permeated by the sport(s).

I went to small town Canada and guess what the kids were playing in the summer? Hockey on concrete. Everyday. In the US I see them playing baseball, in Europe soccer.

I believe strongly that when it comes to sports our likes and dislikes are about 99% predetermined by the environment we grow up in.

Rich or poor is secondary, number of goals is secondary, level of athleticism is secondary. What matters mostly is the sports traditions we grow up with. End of story.

That's where the discussion should end. People seem to have a hard time though accepting that. I don't know why... You see/read all sorts of explanations as to why soccer is boring, but the critics can't even imagine that almost the same arguments could be made against American sports.

I have lived and worked for long periods of time in six countries and the main realization was that who I am as a person is _hugely_ shaped by the society/environment I grew up in.

Not long ago I was reading on PJM comments made by Americans on the reasons why soccer is not popular in the US. Most of them had no idea that their criticism wasn't reality based, but rather deeply cultural based. They were just like me before my career took me to different countries - oblivious to the influence of my past.

There are some people smarter than me who don't have to live in X countries in order to understand the complex ways in which their upbringing defines them. I wasn't one of them. I needed to leave my past in order to understand how much my past was influencing my present choices.

In Europe American football is almost non-existent and baseball is truly non-existent. You could say that's because Europeans are stupid folks who lack understanding. That might satisfy some (American) ego, but is it true? Or is it simply because no one grows up with those sports and thus there is no affinity with them, no emotional connection? Which explanation is more likely?

I for one am puzzled by the need to dissect and explain, instead of quietly accepting and moving on.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I suspect you are correct, and it is even more than half nostalgia. Subsequent analysis may just be scrabbling at the edges, explaining the last 5%. Which hardly seems worth the effort.

Class can affect choice of sport as well. Cricket, for example. Golf, which is much more of a blue-collar sport in Scotland. Curling.

GraniteDad said...

make the pitch 10 yards shorter.

Dr X said...

I suspect nostalgia is an important factor. We can also dig a bit deeper and ask the question: Why are we nostalgic?

Perhaps nostalgia is related to our idealizing tendency (see Heinz Kohut). I know that my friends and I had sports heroes and teams that we idealized during childhood. When I look back at the sports heroes I idealized as a child, I see the sports I follow as adult.

Certainly, there wouldn't be anything approaching 1.0 correlation for the general population of sports fans, but it would be interesting to compare childhood sports heroes with sports followed as an adult. I wouldn't be surprised to find that childhood idealizations are a major factor.

My teen years were spent in a CT town where youth soccer had been an obsession since the 1930s. The high school team won a disproportionate number of state championships and the team even toured Europe quite successfully. But I didn't have any professional soccer idols during childhood. I don't recall that any of my friends did either. We knew Pelé, but was he a hero for any of us? Not really. As much as we enjoyed playing soccer and attending games as spectators, I don't think any of us became ardent adult fans of the professional game.