Monday, June 12, 2006

Futbol, the Most Beautiful Sport in the World

I have always been a futbol (soccer) fan, though I have to admit I have lost touch with the sport a bit in the past years. I'm not very good at playing it so I quit, but I have always enjoyed watching the game. I can honestly say that it is the only sport I can watch on television and never get bored. The ball is always moving, the clock never stops- there is a guaranteed maximum game time of 2 hours start to finish. I mean- I like watching a basketball, football or baseball game as long as I'm AT the game- not sitting on some couch entertaining myself with beer and junk food.

I have to admit that I like to see all the slide tackling and roughness in soccer as well.

If you haven't watched futbol before, take a couple of hours in the next month and watch a World Cup match. (I suggest sooner rather than later.) I became addicted to watching the World Cup after just a minute of watching the England vs. Paraguay game early Saturday morning. I watched all 5 other matches this past weekend and I have the "MatchCast" behind my PowerCADD window and check it frequently while I'm here at work.... I even go to the local British pub at lunchtime to watch the first half of the noon (PST) games.

I think soccer is a form of art. Such amazing use of the human body relative to the ball is somehow so beautiful. The game is simple and complex at the same time. John Lancaster best describes the elegance of the sport in the June 2006 issue of National Geographic:

"At some deep level the reason soccer snags us is that good soccer is beautiful, and it's difficult, and the two are related. A team kicking the ball to each other, passing into empty space that is suddenly filled by a player who wasn't there two seconds ago and who is running at full pelt and who without looking or breaking stride knocks the ball back to a third player who he surely can't have seen, who, also at full pelt and without breaking stride, the passes the ball, at say 60 miles an hour, to land on the head of a fourth player who has run 75 yards to get there and who, again all in stride, jumps and heads the ball with, once you realize how hard this is, unbelievable power and accuracy toward a corner of the goal just exactly where the goalkeeper, executing some complex physics entirely without conscious thought and through muscle-memory, has expected it to be, so that all this grace and speed and muscle and athleticism and attention to detail and power and precision will never appear on a score sheet and will be forgotten by everybody a day later- this is the strange fragility, the evanescence of soccer. It's hard to describe and it is even harder to do, but it does have a deep beauty, a beauty hard to talk about and that everyone watching a game discovers for themselves, a secret thing, and this is the reason why soccer, which has so much ugliness around it and attached to it, still sinks so deeply into us: Because it is, it can be, so beautiful."

I understand though that one may have to play or have played the game and know the rules to thoroughly enjoy watching it and to fully appreciate it.

I really love watching the players faces as well as the game itself. So many emotions are revealed- anger, pain, happiness, anticipation, pressure, aggressiveness, competitiveness. The fans' faces can be equally as emotional. When the first goal was scored fairly late in the first half of the Italy vs. Ghana game (Ghana being the underdog- this is the country's first World Cup ever), the camera went to a young boy in Ghana's colors whose entire body sank as his face fell into his hands. It was only maybe 2 seconds of footage, but the overwhelming emotion of that boy made me want to cry. Everyone watching the boy made the choral and contrite "awww."

Language & Diversity
To give a view of soccer worldwide, articles in this National Geographic issue prove that soccer stops wars, starts wars, sells products, is a performance, heals countries, makes grown men weep, promotes peace and provokes violence that sometimes leads to death. Henning Mankell writes, "War could never kill soccer in Angola. The soccer fields are demilitarized zones.... It is harder for people who play soccer together to go out and kill each other." How can ONE thing be so powerful?

The diversity of the teams and their respective languages also adds to the World Cup in that opposing teams may not speak the same language and therefore, neither receives cues that would normally allow players to read the other team's strategy. This communication barrier is also advantageous relative to the referees. When a call is made by a referee and an argument is made by a player because of the call, the ref may not understand the language of the player and so no time is wasted on the clock for a "bad call."

Overall though, the sport is universal. It is played (or can be played) in every country in the world. In National Geographic Sean Wilsey writes, "Soccer's universality is its simplicity-- the fact that the game can be played anywhere with anything. Urban children kick the can on concrete and rural kids kick a rag wrapped around a rag wrapped around a rag, barefoot, on dirt."


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