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FIFA Fever

Joyce Marcel

Today let's not talk about the oil spill or Afghanistan or Elena Kagan.       

Instead, I'm going to admit that like two billion or so other people around the world, I have spent the past few weeks glued to the television set watching World Cup Soccer. It's like eating cashews. I can't stop.       

But as I go through my days saying things like, "Hurry up and finish this interview, I want to see the Netherlands play Slovakia," or "I know they're playing the U.S., but I think the Ghana team has soul,"  I recognize that I'm getting a lot of blank looks.       

Maybe you're not a sports fan? Or maybe you tuned out after Ghana eliminated the United States?       

Tune in now. Don't miss this. It's the best of the best of the best, and it only comes around every four years. Believe it or not, it's even better when your team has been eliminated. Then you can watch the play unimpeded -- admire the art for arts sake, if you will. And watch your emotions shift with the play.       

Since I'm trying to watch as much of as many games as possible and still earn a living, my thoughts are more or less random. In no particular order:       

- In the worst rout in recent memory, the North Korean team was whipped 7-0 by Portugal. The team got a second chance against the Ivory Coast a few days later and lost 3-0. Then it went home to a brutal and censoring dictatorship that does not take losing lightly. Is the team OK? Are the players in prison? Are they even alive? Even the Portuguese team has expressed concern. I think they should have offered them asylum.      

- It's fun to watch the games in Spanish. It's the same television feed, but the announcers are more emotional.       

- And sometimes it can be amusing to watch the game with others. I watched the first half of the US-Ghana match at Kipling's Pub. When the television cameras showed Bill Clinton talking to Mick Jagger, someone muttered "He's not getting any satisfaction," and someone else shouted, "Lock up your daughters."       

- Some of the referees have been making terrible calls. The cameras catch their mistakes -- for example, the German goalkeeper catching an English ball in the net (goal!), throwing it out and fooling the referee. Everyone saw the mistake in replay -- the players, the fans in the stands and the world watching on smart phones, televisions and computer screens. But the goal wasn't counted. At first FIFA, the international organization that runs world soccer, reacted defensively -- just as any dictatorship (or country run by Dick Cheney) would. Instead of fixing the problem, it announced that it would censor instant replays in the stadium. On Tuesday, however, thanks to world-wide condemnation, FIFA president Sepp Blatter promised to investigate using technology to guard against incorrect goal-line decisions. Now people are wondering if he really means it. In any case, it can't help the Americans or the British now.       

- Although World Cup soccer is as macho as it can get, I love the words the commentators use to discuss the game: They speak openly of magic, artistry and creativity. They call it "the beautiful game." The players caress each other. Some of the winners trade their sweat-stained tops with the losers as a sign of affection and respect. Where was the word "respect" at the NBA Championships? (Even Kobe flew down to South Africa to check out the real athletes.)      

- Speaking of athletic skill, I marvel at the conditioning of these players. They run back and forth over the pitch -- the length of an American football field -- without stop for 45 minutes at a time. They jump. They fly.       

- Although national pride is certainly on display, it's a bit jarring to hear that an athlete who is leaving everything he has on the field for Slovakia spends most of his time playing for Liverpool.       

- Fans come to the games wearing outlandish costumes -- the surly French in Louis XIV costumes and wigs, the Brazilians draped in green, the Americans with red-white-and-blue-painted faces and curly wigs. I wonder if  they feel silly on the way back to their hotels after their team has lost.       

- Soccer may bring the whole world together, but as Dave Zirin writes in The Nation, "There is simply no sporting event on earth more entangled in politics than this brilliantly bombastic tournament. Anytime you have half the earth tuned in -- as colonies play their former colonizers and dictatorships challenge democracies -- politics follow like rainbows after rain."

But basically, it's mostly about money. Many of these players are multi-millionaires who drive Lamborghinis to the stadium and date baronesses. (Don't believe me? Check out: (WAG is British slang for "wives and girlfriends.") A goal or a block can mean a new contract and a new supermodel. They may be playing for their country, but they're also playing for their agents and for themselves.      
I'm going to miss it terribly when it's over.

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Joyce Marcel is a journalist and columnist. You can reach her at

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