I didn’t even like soccer until sitting in a small Italian piazza 8 years ago. An outdoor café in Atrani’s piazza had free wireless internet, so I found myself there each day to catch up on emails, web searches, & online calls to home. One afternoon, as I was completely engrossed on my laptop, the café became packed with locals and a few tourists. I didn’t know what happened, and didn’t realize the café owners had rolled out a big screen TV right in front of my table. Within moments, the café was full. Really, really full. Chairs were haphazardly added to aisles, and we were elbow-to-elbow. The back of the café filled too, with people standing, and more people poured into the piazza itself. Seems I had the best seat in the house for World Cup, a game I didn’t understand. This was my baptism into what the world calls, ‘football’, the beautiful game.
Eight years later I’m in Rio de Janeiro, at the epicenter of World Cup 2014. And I’m enjoying a sport I have come to adore, amidst other devotees. There are 32 countries competing in 64 games over 30+ days in 12 Brazilian cities. With 3-4 world class games a day, the ‘high’ is dizzying, intoxicating, and addicting. It feels like a daily, delicious drug trip.
Maybe you are one of the few holdouts that still don’t understand or appreciate World Cup? Hmmm, are you American? Are you significantly annoyed by the month-long media focus on this sport? No worries, I have the perfect five step program to immunize yourself against the seduction that IS the World Cup.
1. Avoid the Magnetism. Serious fans of World Cup LOVE the sport, and show it. You see it on their faces, in their animated conversations, & in their focus while watching a game. They wear their emotions on their sleeve, the highs and the lows. The screams of joy and the groans of loss. And many also wear shirts, hats, flags, face & bodypaint, wigs, and glasses to declare that love. There are also lots of songs, dances, and chants by fans & players before, during and after games- anytime & anywhere. And being surrounded by that electricity, devotion and focus is heady stuff. Avoid the magnetism of being caught in the midst of all that. Stay far, far away from games, celebrations, discussions or any events surrounding World Cup; or risk being drawn into the strong magnetic pull of this global event. Even the Columbian players (from the land of ‘Shakira’) have their own little goal dance.
2. Keep Your Feet on the Ground. The World Cup creates a parallel universe for futbol fans. Games take us beyond the realm of time and space. We are IN THE MOMENT so fully that other cares, issues or concerns fall away as we are 100% in the singular experience. Researchers say true happiness comes from experiences that take us to another realm, and out of our conscious existence. Like falling in love, there is no anchor in today’s ‘here and now’; instead there is just a surreal feeling of lightness, joy & singular focus. So if you can keep your nose to the grindstone during World Cup, congratulations. Keep doing it. There’s a reason Brazil has declared holidays on days the Brazilian team plays. The collective adoration by the Brazilian population for World Cup brings the country to a halt. Don’t believe me? Check out the empty streets and boulevards all around Brazil when their team is playing.
3. Adjust your Nationalistic Blinders. The sporting rivalry between 32 countries is globally enlightening. World Cup features a wide array of flags, colors, peoples, clothing, and languages to create a potpourri of international proportions. Even Bosnia, Iran, & Camaroon are here competing against their more famous rivals like Brazil, Spain, Italy, and Argentina. An estimated 3.7 million fans have descended on Brazil, and filled restaurants, bars and other venues featuring the games on TV for those who couldn’t afford or find tickets for stadium play. And each time a game is played a new collection of foreigners fills the chairs, to chat up their neighbors, tease each other regarding their team’s prowess, and share a drink, and conversation—and maybe even a new friendship develops. National anthems of competing teams are featured before each game. Players and fans alike belt out their country’s songs with fervor and passion. (Funny, but I can’t hear France’s national anthem without thinking of that famous scene in the movie, Casablanca. You know the one.) One cannot avoid expanding one’s global horizons at World Cup. So to avoid that World Cup seduction successfully, best to keep your nationalistic blinders on, and remain inoculated against a world view. But if you haven’ heard Algeria’s national anthem, it’s a “peppy little number”, as a friend noted.
4. Stay Focused on Sports with Commercials, TimeOuts, and Undetermined Ending Times. A World Cup game is only a 2-hour commitment, that’s it- two hours, max. It consists of two 45-minute halves with no interruptions, commercials or time outs. If you want to replenish that drink or “see a man about a horse” (as my father used to say), gotta make it fast. Halftime is only 15 minutes, with no halftime shows, glitz or glamour. So to avoid the World Cup seduction, stick with other sports and their commercials, timeouts, and lengthy shows at halftime. Surely you need to buy something from all those commercials you’re watching, right? And all those breaks gives you lots of time in-between to prepare meals, run errands, wash the car, and balance your checkbook, too.
5. Find your Own Fun. A month of World Cup with multiple games each day means there’s a party somewhere. And since World Cup fans are in high form, these parties are intense. However, for you ‘do-it-your-selfers’, this may seem too easy. A party around every corner? Fun and frolic on a daily basis? No, not you. So be adventurous, find & create your own fun. It’s gotta be out there somewhere. And leave the World Cup partying to those of us already stricken with World Cup fever. But trying to find a bar or restaurant with television NOT tuned to World Cup is a challenge. At least you can avoid the FanFests where tens of thousands of us can easily find a party of epic proportions.
Exactly 32 of the 64 World Cup games have been played as I finalize this article. So for you anti-World Cup holdouts, hang in there a bit longer. There’s a light for you at the end of this World Cup tunnel. It’s almost over.
However, for devoted fans, this means we are happy gluttons and wanting more during this ‘football feeding frenzy’. The downside is we know this intoxicating high is counting down too.
No matter if you are a fan or foe, it’s going to be four LONG years before the next World Cup. So throw a bit of mercy our way. We are building with anticipation as increasingly important games will determine a world champion. At the same time, we know each additional game is taking us closer to the end of this amazing love affair. It’s a delicious but painful double-edged sword. But this is the seduction of the World Cup.