Now that Robert Hillburn has retired (mostly), Andres Martinez may be my favorite LA Times writer. Today, he addresses what he calls "one of the more intriguing global confrontations unfolding these days — the struggle between international soccer and U.S. sports to win hearts and minds around the world." American sports have "a largely anemic colonialist record."
U.S. pop culture may reign supreme around the world, but the troika of our games — basketball, baseball and "American" football — hardly reigns supreme anywhere else… Soccer, by contrast, is the one form of mass global culture that is not made in America. Bring together a Swede, a Nigerian and a Korean teenager and almost all they are likely to have in common is American culture. They will talk about the latest Hollywood blockbuster, what Ben and Angelina are up to and the latest American music. And, of course, if they can communicate at all, it will be in English.Soccer will be the other thing they have in common. And they will talk about the recent Barcelona-Arsenal match and the World Cup. [Andrea and I watched it at an Irish pub in Dubrovnik with a poet and a philosopher from Columbus, Ohio.] Most American teenagers would be left out of the conversation when talk turned to sports.
Roughly one in five people on the planet watched the final match of the 2002 World Cup, and the monthlong tournament had a cumulative TV audience of 28.8 billion. Only about one in every 75 Americans watched the final.
Finally, the racism-in-football meme has been picked up by the Times and NPR in addition to the USA Today piece I referenced last week. Muammar takes a slightly different take, pointing to an Islam Online article on Islamophobia at the tournament. "Islamophobic and proud of it," read t-shirts being distributed, claims the article.