Football: The Sport Where the World Shakes Hands

A worldwide game that defines nations and brings people together as they compete
Rahman Mohamed

People of Earth: walking around the world, living in different nations, speaking different languages, and, greeting each other in a different way. But did you know there is something that unites people globally? Kicking a ball at a lone man standing between two bars with a mesh net behind him, the only one on the vast field that’s allowed to use his hands.

It’s true. Sports don’t just bring families and friends together; according to Kari L. Jaksa (2011), published in SAIS Review of International Affairs, “For many countries, sports are a major component of national identity. . . . [T]hese countries are defined as much by their sporting pursuits as they are by their politics, economy, and geography.” There it is, the same scene around the world: a family (or a bunch of guys) from one or many cultures/backgrounds sitting on a couch staring at a TV (or in the stands) watching: THE GAME.

The one game people around the world tunes to: Football (known as soccer only to Canadians and Americans but not Mexicans). It’s the cheapest sport and one of the few played worldwide. All it needs: a ball, an outline for the goal – where the players are going to kick the ball, and 22 people – 11 for each team (according to today’s international rules from FIFA). Most of its rules are often broken when the game is played by children around the world.

The kickoff for the FIFA Men’s World Cup was on June 12.  And now people around the world are watching Brazil.

Studies have suggested the game may have been played (with primitive rules) as early as 3rd or 2nd century BC in China. Others have suggested cavemen might have played it (without rules). But today the game exists around the world.

One of the most popular leagues today is Barclays Premier League based in the United Kingdom, home to 20 clubs including arch-rivals Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool.  It’s so popular fans from around the world, not just the UK, watch the games and use the internet to plan how to coach and manage their own teams in the Fantasy World (registering for free and using an artificial British Pound budget to buy players and watch their performance on games and in the league to find out to improve the fantasy team).

The newest league on the global field – MLS (Major League Soccer) – slowly gaining spectators in its stands and behind screens. After being launched in 1996, home to 19 clubs from Canada and the United States (four sporting FC in their name). It even has a new Fantasy League attracting people from around the world signing onto artificial turf to spend unreal millions of dollars to create their own teams and buy players. In 2015 four more clubs will step onto the turf.  And there are rumours the league is planning to expand to Mexico, more borders cooperating just to kick a ball the most times between a post.

But the most popular league of all: the international league home to 209 clubs (nations), run by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Its highlight, nations from around the world coming together to compete for the most coveted trophy on Earth: The FIFA Men’s World Cup.

In Brazil, 12 June-13 July, 2014, is the Cup people around the world are waiting to see.  It stopped in Toronto in February (it’s only Canadian stop).

It’s not just the countries that have qualified who’ll watch the games.  Canada hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1986, the first time and only time it qualified for any FIFA World Cup. February, 2014 the Canadian men slipped 2 points to 113 (the highest they’ve been is 40), but the women hadn’t changed and were just a bit higher at 7 (the highest they’ve been is 6). But multicultural Canadians with roots in countries that love the game of kicking a ball with a foot will still be glued to their screens for the entire month, watching every move like the rest of the world, cheering on the rest of the world.

At the World Cup, friends and enemies come together, but it’s the one of the few times (every 4 years) when those who hate will be thinking “I wonder who he’s going to pass to next” instead of “Is he aiming a missile at me”.  With the exception of the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics during the Cold War, and cancellation of the games in 1940 and 1944 during WW2, worldwide sports are the one and only place politics are non-existent.

Seriously, not only are Russia (FIFA Rank 19) and the United States (Rank 13), rivals on the UN Security Council, competing (but in different groups), but Iran (49) are there with the rest of the world.  The only thing the people will be watching if their hands and feet are touching a ball (not if they’re holding a trigger to a missile).

But that’s not all; 13 European economic rivals will be there; but instead of Germany (Rank 2) trying to sell more to England (10) than Portugal (14); all three were trying to outscore Spain (1) and home team Brazil (11), who had high ranks in June and were favourites to win the cup but have been part of a tournament that’s been full of twists.

With surprise passes and shots favourites England, Spain, and Australia, have been eliminated together with Cameroon, Honduras, and Bosnia-Herzegovina before the final round robin matches while Netherlands, Chile, and Costa Rica guarantee themselves a spot in the Round of 16 with France, Columbia, Argentina and Belgium.  Brazil might have won its first game against Croatia, 3-1, Croatia’s only goal being one from Brazil.  But after a draw with Mexico, the two are tied for first in their group and Croatia’s hopes aren’t shattered.

Ghana from Africa has pulled surprises too, USA winning the game by a single goal and tying Germany after a bitter struggle.  Together with Portugal, their chances for advancing are still well alive.

Nigeria’s story is another for the books.  Unless Iran scores goals in its final match against Bosnia-Herzegovina they’re favourites to advance with Argentina in Group F.

And it all started on Day 1.  While chanting “We are One” during the opening ceremonies in Brazil, FIFA released 3 doves as a symbol of peace (2 unfortunately didn’t survive).  Then the field was cleared to make room for the first game: Brazil vs. Croatia.  There, officiated by referee Yuichi Nishimura and Assistants Toru Sagara, Toshiyuki Nagi from Japan and Alireza Faghani from Iran.

The final qualifying matches for FIFA’s World Cup begin today! The world turning its eyes on Australia vs. Spain and Netherlands vs. Chile to determine first and fourth in Group B.  Later, Cameroon vs. Brazil and Croatia vs. Mexico will determine who in Group A makes the cut. Cameroon may be mathematically eliminated but they still have power to eliminate host and high-ranking Brazil.

And the Encores are coming to Canada; August 5-24, 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and June 6-July 4, 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.  As host Canada qualifies! And their rankings are high!

But will Canadians from around the world unite to support the girls that will run for the Great White North (because host countries automatically qualify and Canada might fly) or will they support their own? ‘Tis yet to be seen.

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