The most popular sport in the world will be on one of the worlds
biggest stages this summer. The 2002 World Cup, to be held for
the first time ever in Korea and Japan, will be broadcast in
more than 50 different countries, in 50 different languages.
The most played sport in the world, and we here in the United
States can only catch the really good games on pay-per-view.
We live in a country with a free press, yet we have to learn
from foreign students who won what game or who tied whom.
Why is that?
The major contributor to this dilemma, I feel, is the fact
that advertisers are the gatekeepers to the material we see
on television. If advertisers cant get their commercials
in, then the networks have no use for a program. FIFA, Federation
Internationale de Football Association (the governing body of
international soccer), has refused to give up basic aspects
of the game just to cater to the preferences of American networks,
which want to schedule time within the game for commercials
as they do now, for example, in basketball.
Previous presidents of FIFA have expressed their dismay with
media breaks and have explained to American networks and advertisers
why such commercial interruption could be detrimental to the
flow of play (momentum) in soccer.
In 1997 the NCAA tried timeouts during regular and postseason
play, but went back to banner advertising for the final eight
games. Al Pacino said it best, in Any Given Sunday, when he
said The day we cut to a commercial was the day we stopped
Do soccer fans need to see their favorite athlete in commercial
breaks throughout the games they are playing? On nights when
he isnt having a good game, basketball fans get to see
more of Kobe Bryant during the commercial breaks than on the
court. I dont want to see my favorite soccer players anywhere
but on the field playing soccer.
Soccer is known to the rest of the world as Jogo Bonito, Portuguese
for the beautiful game, a term that is synonymous
with the legendary, Pele. Now, there is a great role model.
He continues to further his sport. Anyone else, at his age and
wealth, would only be thinking about fast women and faster cars,
but not Pele. He regards his World Cup victories as life defining
moments, and he feels that his lifelong dream was only realized
when the 1994 World Cup made it to the states.
Most people dont know this, but Pele probably took the
biggest pay cut in the history of sports by deciding to play
in the United States. International soccer clubs can pay just
as much as, if not more than, high profile professional basketball
teams. Franz Beckenbauer, the greatest defender of all times,
felt the same as Pele, and also took a large paycut to play
Why did they do this? Why would they take less money to play
to crowds of 10,000 in the United States when they could make
more and play to packed stadiums and crowds in excess of 50,000
by playing almost anywhere else? They knew that if soccer came
to the states without international stars, it would probably
lose its integrity, like everything else, once it hit primetime
television. They came because they wanted North Americans to
see the game played correctly and well. True sportsmen, they
took a pay cut in order to enhance their sport.
In 94 FIFA brought the World Cup to the United States
in an attmept to use the international popularity of Pele to
jump start a professional soccer league in North America. Unfortunately,
not even Pele was enough. Its been eight years now, and
major league soccer has yet to have even one broadcast on primetime
Seamus Malan, probably the best soccer analyst that this country
has produced, believes that Americans still dont
really grasp the concept of soccer; its not in your face.
Its about mastering the sport, he explained, not the opponent.
Soccer is called the gentlemens game. Disputes
occur between players and referees, but rarely between players.
In soccer being a player means knowing how to distribute your
energy in an efficient way. In other North American sports it
seems that players believe arguing with each other will some
how magically make a referee change a decision. Soccer players
recognize who truly owns the game.
In fact the soccer rulebook stipulates that retaliation between
any two players will result in immediate ejection. If a player
is ejected, that means the team must play a man down for the
duration of the game. Ejected players will probably spend a
lot of post-game explaining to teammates why they allowed emotional
reactions to get the better of common sense.
Finally, why do North American audiences think soccer players
are weaker than athletes in other sports? In basketball, teams
may dash back and forth several hundred times, but the court
is only 94 feet long. In football a team may rush for several
hundred yards, pass receivers may carry for even more, but in
soccer, the average professional runs about six miles per game.
Is it size? Yankees like things big. Do North American reject
soccer because it doesnt have players the size of Lawrence
Taylors or Shaquille ONeal? Pele only stands 5-7, and
the second-greatest offensive player, Diego Maradona, is only
5-5. Is speed and intelligence not enough for American audiences?
As HPU soccer coach, Mark Kane would say, Soccer is a
marathon and a chess match all rolled into one. Most North
Americans dont understand chess, either. Maybe its
time we did?