07 July 2010

Why I Hate the World Cup




During the past few weeks, Yerevan has been caught up in the frenzy of football fever. At the outset, it didn't seem like such a bad thing... I expected to witness greater camaraderie, enthusiasm for healthy physical activity, and the strengthening of international ties among the people of the city. I was filled with hope. I suppose it's the idealist in me. But as the days passed, I realized how foolish I was, for as it turned out, the opposite was the case.

Before I continue, I should make the following disclaimer:

***I AM AMERICAN. FEW PEOPLE IN THE U.S. CARE ABOUT FOOTBALL IF IT ISN'T "AMERICAN" FOOTBALL. THEREFORE, I GREW UP WITH VIRTUALLY NO KNOWLEDGE OF OR INTEREST IN THE SPORT WE YANKS REFER TO AS SOCCER. HOWEVER, UNLIKE MANY AMERICANS, I GENERALLY DISLIKE MOST FORMS OF COMPETITION. AS A CHILD WITH MORE OF A MIND FOR ACADEMICS THAN ATHLETICS, I CAME IN LAST PLACE AT EVERY SWIM MEET WITHOUT EXCEPTION, I GOT MORE BASKETBALLS IN THE FACE (RIGHT IN MY COKE-BOTTLE EYEGLASSES) THAN IN THE NET, AND, CONTRARY TO THE VIEWS OF MY CLASSMATES, I CONSIDERED FIELD DAY THE ABSOLUTE WORST DAY OF THE YEAR. I EMPATHIZE DEEPLY WITH THOSE SCHOOLCHILDREN -- PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE -- WHO, LIKE ME, HAVE BEEN/WILL BE SUBJECT TO THE LASTING TRAUMA OF ALWAYS BEING THE LAST ONE PICKED FOR A SPORTS TEAM THEY DIDN'T WANT TO JOIN IN THE FIRST PLACE, THE ONE NO ONE WANTS, THE DORK. SO BEFORE YOU ROUND UP AN ANGRY MOB AND COME AFTER ME WITH PITCHFORKS AND FLAMING TORCHES, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT I AM SOMEWHAT BITER WHEN IT COMES TO ALL POPULAR SPORTS, NOT JUST FOOTBALL. THE EVIDENCE ON WHICH THIS POST IS BASED IS ALL ANECDOTAL, MY OPINIONS ARE THE RESULT OF MY OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCES, AND YES, I DO HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR.***

First off, rather than camaraderie, I have witnessed the weakening of friendships on their most rudimentary level. No, I'm not talking about riots in the streets, nor even about best friends splitting up over a controversial call by a referee. It seems that the World Cup has become an excuse for ignoring the decorum that forms the basis of any relationship. Consider a recent telephone conversation, which went something like this:

ME: Hey, I'm on my way to the restaurant. Are you there yet?
FRIEND: Oh...no...you know, I'm going to be late. Sorry, I can't leave home until the game is over. It's so exciting!
ME: Um, okaaay... thanks for letting me know in advance.

On another occasion, I was with a group of friends having dinner at an outdoor cafe. Instead of sitting together for the entire meal like civilized human beings, various members of our party repeatedly left the table to check the score. Excuse me...I'm no Emily Post, but isn't that terribly rude?

I can forgive one little slip-up, but if sports-mania becomes an acceptable replacement for good manners, I'd prefer to spend the rest of my life alone.

As for physical activity, I guess I was naïve to expect to see strangers take to the streets, laughing and kicking a ball around together. Instead of taking to the streets, people are taking their seats, hypnotized by their TVs. And not just at home; many of the most fashionable cafes and clubs throughout the city have installed several large flat-screens to attract customers...so that rather than sitting on their butts watching the game at home, they're paying money to sit on their butts and watch in the cafe, smoking and drinking all the while. Not exactly the healthy effect I was hoping the games would create.

One the one hand, this may seem like a smart move from a marketing perspective, but in reality, they're losing business -- MY business, that is. At least twice I have been unable to find an available seat at our favorite cafe because of football fans who are incapable of vacating the table even when they're finished with their food/drinks/cigarettes because apparently their eyeballs are attached by invisible steel chains to the TV screens. One time, Jarred and I found a good place to sit at yet another cafe (in the V.I.P. section, ooh-la-la) but the servers there informed us that because of the World Cup, all the tables were already reserved, so we had to leave. I also heard that one of the popular discos in town now has a big screen up, and doesn't play music when there is a game on. So even those who are out to get their bodies moving and dance off a few calories are unable to do so -- not at that particular club, anyway.

There are some people who watch World Cup simply because it's a fad... they are about as athletically-disinclined as I am, don't know the first thing about the rules of football, and have no interest in learning; they simply watch the game play out as if it were a soap opera or TV drama, under the guise of being a sports fanatic. This may not sound all that bad, but I hope you can appreciate how unbelievably aggravating it is for me when I tell you that the person I have in mind for this example is the very offender from the aforementioned telephone conversation.

My third reason for hating the World Cup is harder to explain. I believe compassion and cooperation are more powerful and more beneficial than competition. Does the World Cup foster international cooperation? Perhaps to some extent... I admit I don't know enough about this topic. Maybe someone can enlighten me. But so far all I've read is bad news: the Nigerian president attempting to suspend his country's team because of their poor performance, rumors of bribery and corruption, opportunities for spammers and hackers to spread malware, the French debacle...all driven by pressure to be "the best." I've noticed, too, that these games tend to bring out all the old, often politically incorrect stereotypes about the participating countries, perpetuating misconceptions about diverse cultures and peoples who, in the end, have more in common than not. On top of all of this is the excessive betting on teams for money -- legal or illegal, it's gambling, and we all know how dangerous that can be, especially in developing countries where the people are already so poor. What do the bookmakers care? Sports for them is not about compassion or cooperation...it's all about profit. Haven't you seen Two For the Money?

There is one final reason why I hate the World Cup. I discovered it the first time I turned on a game, so that I might attempt to understand everyone's excitement: THE VUVUZELA. Need I say more?

***
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