Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The power of the Cup

I find the World Cup fascinating. Is there is any other event that can bring together different ages, cultures, ethnic groups,and religions from around the world? It’s an achievement writers and film producers strive for — producing a work that can interest both children and adults while riveting their attention. Fair-weather fans like me join hard-core sports fans in cheering on the teams.

At 2 o’clock Tuesday Mexico will face soccer powerhouse Brazil. It will be hard to find a place in urban Mexico where you are out of earshot of shouts and shrieks when a goal is scored—or missed. Short of being in the stadium in Fortaleza, Brazil, the grandest locations will be watching the game on a big screen in the Zócalo of most any Mexican city.

If a politician were in the crowd the Mexican press would say that he or she were getting a “baño de pueblo” – a peoples’ bath. That’s what it feels like. You’ll be saturated with people and their enthusiasm for the game and their country’s team. All ages and all social classes will be there.

We’ll watch interviews with Brazilian players by Mexican television reporters that go untranslated, leaving us to figure out what was said in Portuguese. We’ll see some advertising surrounding the playing field that is familiar but also advertising for brands that aren’t sold here and some in script that is unintelligible to the western eye.

For those of us perceived as foreigners in Mexico, watching the World Cup is a rare opportunity. We’ll be welcomed in, cheering for Mexico’s team, celebrating its victory or sharing the “we’re still in the running – it’s all based on points” consolation if it goes the other way.

With a few exceptions, World Cup soccer players represent the countries of their birth. Just watching a World Cup game involves an appreciation of history and geography. European colonial powers — and their former western hemisphere colonies — can easily be distinguished by the racial mix of their teams. Non-colonial countries stand out because of their homogeneity.

If Karl Marx were writing today, I think he’d say watching professional sports is the opiate of the masses. But the World Cup is different. In fact, in developing countries, hosting the World Cup awakens peoples’ demands of their government.

Every four years this spectacle is taken in by the pueblo, expanding its world-view while witnessing other peoples around the world sharing the same planet and enthusiasm for the same game.

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