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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

WWBCS? (What would Bob Costas do?) 

In deference to my vast worldwide audience, I am going to use the word "football" throughout this post, except when referring to one particular sports network.

I am now in my football kick. A couple of years ago, we switched from analog cable to digital cable, and I began watching Fox Soccer Channel (which was probably still called Fox Sports World at the time). After we dropped digital cable, I returned to my ignorance of all things football. But when we got satellite, as well as the ability to record shows for later replay, I got back into the football mode, taping the 4:30 am Saturday English Premier League games for later viewing, and figuring out who Michelle Lissel and Hayley McQueen are. (Lissel, by the way, is on location in Germany. Hello! Hello!)

Normally I absolutely positively hate to watch tape-delayed sports, but I made an exception for English Premier League games, since they'd be relatively new to me, and I wouldn't have to worry about hearing the score beforehand on (regular) TV, or reading the EPL scores in the Daily Bulletin.

If I hate tape-delayed sporting events, I really hate tape-delayed and repackaged sporting events, such as the recent Winter Olympics as covered by NBC. So for that reason I have to praise the Disney networks for airing the World Cup games live. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Of course, that meant that I had to adjust my usual routine yesterday, since I wanted to watch the Czech-US game when I arrived home that evening. Luckily, no one discussed the game at work. I figured I'd be safe listening to John and Ken on the ride home (provided that I turned off the radio during newscasts), but when John Ziegler said "Did you enjoy the morning without immigrants?" I cautiously shut the radio off.

So I arrived home, found the recording ot the game, and watched the Americans lose. Confession: I only watched the first half live. Once I saw the 2-0 score, I fast-forwarded through much of the second half. (Or you can just go to the match tracker.)

Again, I have to praise the Disney folks for showing the games live. I shudder to think what NBC would have done.

Hello, I'm Bob Costas. It's 8:00 in the evening on the East Coast, and we're about to show you some tape-delayed soccer action. Of course, even this tape-delayed broadcast will be further tape-delayed on the West Coast, so you guys in California will be viewing this even later. In fact, since we'll purposely delay coverage of the U.S. game until later in the broadcast, some of you will be watching the game twelve hours after it happened. But first, let's look at the heartwarming story of some American soccer player, taking great care to ignore the soccer players from every other country. Hey! Why is everyong shutting off their TVs?

b says:

Although it's somewhat fashionable (and easy) for Americans to deride soccer and its fans, it occasionally smacks of elitist isolationism, particularly popular among those who never have and never will leave our great borders. As the Olympics have become a bland mix of melodramatic NBC montages and obnoxiously tepid Bob Costas interviews, the World Cup is the biggest remaining stage for communal appreciation of internationalism, even if some would argue exactly the opposite. Here is maybe the only place where Togo, Angola, and Serbia can become news items for non-horrific reasons.

b links to a Slate article that looks at the nationalism angle:

During the England-Argentina World Cup match [in 2002], for example, [the English football fans] chanted, "Where is your navy? At the bottom of the sea"—a not terribly subtle reference to the Falklands War....

[I]t is a mistake to imagine that only the hooligans temporarily turn into chauvinistic nationalists on the day of an England match. Otherwise well-behaved friends of mine were genuinely outraged that I, a mere foreigner, had received a press ticket. Germany jokes, usually involving the Nazis, were all the rage. One was attributed to Mrs. Thatcher, who upon being told that Germany had defeated England (which they did, of course) had allegedly replied, "They may have beat us at our national game, but we beat them twice at their national game in the 20th century."

And everyone laughed. In the context of soccer, flag-waving nationalism—even chauvinistic, anti-foreigner, flag-waving nationalism—is acceptable in Britain. Which is odd, given that it isn't acceptable in other contexts, not in Britain and not anywhere in Western Europe, where most countries' political elites, at least, are ideologically dedicated to diluting their national identities into the broader European Union—as quickly as possible.

And let me digress for a moment to cover racism in football, which isn't always related to nationalism but should be addressed. And it's being addressed. All over the place:

Kick It Out works throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge racism and work for positive change.

FARE aims to rid the game of racism by combining the resources of anti-racist football organisation throughout Europe. It helps to support and nurture groups and coordinates efforts on an European scale. By working together, FARE helps organisations share good practice and present a united front against racism in football.

Football Unites, Racism Divides believes that football, as the world’s most popular game, can help to bring together people from different backgrounds to play, watch and enjoy the game, and to break down barriers created by ignorance or prejudice.

Welcome to Show Racism the Red Card. The campaign against racism in football and society.

So do all these non-united anti-racist groups fight among each other? "Look at those FURDs putting wite-out on their computer screens!" (Actually, I can't talk - I'm a Christian, and even the orthodox groups have divided exponentially.)

Anyway, back to U.S. reaction to the World Cup - what?

Standing near an RV in the infield at a NASCAR race, the subject of soccer and the World Cup came up, quite unexpectedly. "What's the World Cup?" asked race fan Rich Possinger.

OK, so he admitted he actually did know a thing about the world's biggest sporting event. But like many fellow Americans, Possinger was not setting aside time to watch the U.S. team, which took the field for its first game Monday.

"I'm waiting for the bug to bite," he said, "and it hasn't yet."...

"Soccer is just a sport that's still not dominant in the United States," said Randy Chavez of Albuquerque, N.M. "I'd rather follow baseball, football or basketball, rather than what the rest of the world calls 'football.'"

Indeed, the world's most popular sport is big only around the fringes in the United States — played by plenty (mostly kids) but watched by few (mostly diehards).

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association said more than 17 million people played soccer at least once in 2006, third among team sports behind basketball and football, which has actually surpassed soccer in the past year.

"The NFL and baseball appeal to people who aren't even fans of the sport," said Tink Lim, also at Pocono Raceway to watch a NASCAR race. "It's a cultural thing."

Reaction is...uh...slightly different in other countries.

Through much of the Middle East, a satellite network is charging steep viewing fees, leading to some dramatic action. In Egypt, the head of the Nile Sports Channel asked for United Nations intervention. The king of Jordan ordered public TV screens be set up so low-income citizens could watch.

In Indonesia, not being able to watch the World Cup simply added to the trauma after last month's devastating earthquakes.

"Our sorrows are complete," a local named Kusumo said as he sifted through the rubble that was once his house.

And Indonesia didn't even qualify.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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