Every four years, it comes around again. And every four years, I am gripped by the fever and swept up in the excitement.
The World Cup isn’t like the Olympic games, with its over-the-top ceremonies, its endless fragmentation of dozens of different competitions and sporting events. This is one sport with one maniacal focus for 30 days. And when it’s all over, one team earns the right to be called the best national soccer team in the world.
The World Cup is the one sporting event that brings together all that is good and bad in human nature. And maybe that’s what makes it so appealing on so many different levels.
The good; the world comes together (well, at least the 32 teams that make it to the tournament) for a month-long party to cheer on their teams. Some fans have strong allegiances to home countries or ethnic backgrounds. Some just cheer just for an underdog, but on a global scale.
It’s also a great excuse to meet up with like-minded friends who enjoy the sport as casual sporting fans and explore the city’s many watering holes, have a burger and a beer, and just soak up the atmosphere of the spectacle.
But the World Cup also has the potential to stir up the ugly ghosts of past wars, victories and defeats, casting today’s matches in historical terms of colonizers and colonized, invaders and defenders, oppressors and the oppressed.
And it’s within this heady and sweaty mix of intense passion and rivalry that those ugly strains of nationalism that lie just below the surface of the public face of “we are the world” unity can produce such an intoxicating and thrilling touch-and-go with our primal, beastly nature.
Just watch any YouTube clip of an international match with various soccer hooligan types going at it and you’ll quickly see that the kinds of passions generated there make a rivalry like OSU-Michigan or Lakers-Celtics look like ballroom dancing. Seriously.
The experience here in the U.S., as in other parts of the world, varies depending on whether you’re watching a game alone in your living room or at a bar with novice fans or experienced devotes, or in a partisan group of English or German or Serbian fans. But in any case, it’s a spectacle not to missed.
It’s the kind of event that often defines a summer, or at the very least can kick it off in grand fashion.
So even if you’re not much of a soccer fan at all, make some time and watch a game or two. Get swept up in the madness, even if only for a day. Chances are you won’t be sorry.