Be still, America, the World Cup is here.
My first World Cup experience was surreal: Cameroon had just accomplished the impossible by defeating defending champions Argentina 1-0 in their first match in the 1990 World Cup. They would go further than any African team had ever done, earning a place in history and my heart. Thus began my love of the world cup, a tournament where the improbable could and often did happen. To be honest, Cameroon was not really my favorite team. Thanks to the pony-tailed Roberto Bergio, Italy the tournament’s host was.
But it was difficult not to get caught up in Cameroon’s victory. Almost ten, I was excited that my uncles and aunt were visiting for the World Cup. That year 38-year old Roger Milla, Cameroon’s gold ticket, charmed his way into our hearts. And every time Milla scored my mother and her siblings would jump in excitement and do the Roger Milla dance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9rRVFYF93w). Because Kenya had not made it into the World Cup, still hasn’t, we lived vivaciously through our neighbors, other African teams, in that World Cup and others that would follow.
Imagine my dismay when in 2002, I found that the American family I lived with in St. Paul, Minnesota was not exactly interested in the World Cup. Even if they had been, that year ESPN only played World Cup highlights and not full matches. Lucky for me there was the internet, and with other foreign students, I was able to watch the World Cup on an illegal Senegalese website at the campus computer lab.
Watching the next World Cup in 2006 was not as challenging. That summer, I was on vacation in Miami, Florida where everyone was tuned in: from the receptionist at the front desk of our hotel to the drivers of the hotel shuttle and city bus to bus terminals, stores and restaurants, my friends and I followed the games with the rest of the world. With a large Carribean and South American population in Miami, it was not surprising that the World Cup was playing on transistor radios and on public television screens. And when I returned back to the cities, just in time for the last four games, I was impressed by the large crowd at Britt’s pub in Minneapolis. Slowly, the consumption of football was becoming mainstream.
Also, that year ESPN began broadcasting all world cup matches so had I been in Minnesota, I would not have been left wanting. In 2005, FIFA (the International Federation of Association Football) signed a $425 million contract with ABC/ESPN and Univision that would have the networks broadcast live games and re-runs throughout the World Cup.
Right before the World Cup began this month, I was disheartened to see WCCO’s Jason DeRusha’s misguiding Good Question segment on “Why do we hate watching soccer?” So much for supporting the American national team, I thought. Because more than anything, comparable perhaps only to the Olympics, the World Cup is a nationalism sport. (Incidentally, the U.S. women’s team has won the women’s World Cup twice.) The good news is that, contrary to reports like DeRusha’s, there is a growing number of Americans interested in the World Cup. Viewership on ESPN’s football coverage is four times more than it was in the last World Cup in 2006. What’s more, more people watched the USA/England game last weekend than did the first four games of the 2010 NBA Finals. Consider this:
The […] World Cup viewing figures are even more impressive when you consider the time of the day the games are shown. While the NBA Finals are shown during primetime, the England against United States match was shown during a Saturday mid-afternoon time slot. Plus, the England against USA match on ABC alone drew more viewers than every game of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. And that was after the June 9 broadcast of the Stanley Cup Final on NBC was the most-watched NHL game in the United States in 36 years with 8.28 million viewers.
It would be nice to see a new country take the cup; and not one of the seven that have dominated the finals throughout the history of the tournament. Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Italy, Germany, England and France are the only countries to have won the World Cup in its eighty-year history. Could the improbable happen? Can an Asian or African team take the cup making history? My money is on Côte d’Ivoire.