Sunday, June 6, 2010

Follow The Bouncing Brawl

Play Ball!

Of all the championships out there, the World Cup is the one tournament that can truly be called a “world” event. It is a tournament that can unite countries and fans of the game together in the spirit of competition. But with teams representing all seven continents, the World Cup over the years has also served as an extension of real world politics and real world strife. The Cup has helped spur nationalistic feelings to unprecedented and, in some cases, dangerous levels. I dare to ask, if this year will be any different.

Throughout its history, the magnificence and spectacle of the World Cup has been marred by ugly incidents between competing countries and has also borne witness to violent fans taking their aggressions out on their own players. Back in 1994, Columbian defender Andres Escobar was murdered ten days after his goal into his own net against the United States helped propel the U.S. to the next round. In 1962, the Italian and hosting Chilean team fought after Italian journalists wrote less-than-kind articles about their hosts. Both teams are back in the 2010 tournament. Numerous countries over the years have either boycotted the tournament due to war-time activity or because they were dissatisfied with the political or social views of some of its participants.

This year, a potentially volatile late round matchup with competitive and political implications could pit North Korea against South Korea. Although they are on opposite ends of the World Cup bracket, if both teams were to make it deep into the tournament, given the current military posturing that both have been exhibiting lately, a North/South matchup could cause an already tense situation to become explosive. Greece goes into the tournament hoping that a good showing might lift its country’s spirits during an economic crisis that has its citizen’s fighting in the streets and wondering if they will be bailed out by the European Union.

The tournament has yet to begin, and already there is some controversy and concern about security. During a friendly between Nigeria and North Korea, soccer fans stampeded outside of the stadium. The stampede caused fifteen people to be injured and is hopefully not an omen of things to come.

Will politics upstage the friendly spirit of competition this year? Will we lose focus of the fact that a record six nations from Africa made it into the tournament this year or that South Africa is trying not to become the only host nation to avoid not making it through to the next round. Will Italy become the first nation to win back-to-back World Cup titles since Brazil won back in 1958 and 1962? Which nation will surprise all others and be the dark horse of the tournament?

These are the questions that I want to see make headlines. Let’s hope the participants in the Cup as well as their fans can check any other unnecessary baggage at the door.

- Hamilton Maher

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