World Cup: For the Love of Your Country
Soccer has a long standing reputation of being the world’s sport. I’m a soccer player myself and have always loved watching the game, but the simple fact that I don’t watch TV has deterred me from avidly following a particular team’s performance or having a favorite player in any sport. Watching sports on TV or live is simply a social thing for me, and one I usually don’t mind doing without, but this World Cup is different. This time, I’m living in Tanzania amongst locals and expats alike who are die-hard about soccer, or football I should say, and it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement.
Although Tanzania itself is not involved in the games, the football loving locals still have their favorite teams and players from the Premiere and Champions Leagues in Europe, which means they are still highly invested in watching the matches. Interestingly, no one is criticizing them for supporting a team that’s not their own country’s, but on the other hand, America is catching a lot of flak for not only jumping on but commandeering the World Cup bandwagon.
There are numerous articles circulating about why it’s wrong for Americans to ignore football for four years, or denounce it for being painstakingly boring, but then out of nowhere become World Cup crazed. There are theories as to why Americans haven’t caught the football fever that possesses the rest of the world, and why it’s unfair to claim allegiance only after things get exciting. One friend posted on Facebook: “the world cup: america’s opportunity to jump on the largest bandwagon in the world.” In response to this status, another person said: “It’s not a bandwagon if you’ve always loved America.”
I happen to wholeheartedly agree with the latter sentiment. Supporting your country, or its team, in any capacity should always be encouraged, and not treated with contempt. My general apathy to watching competitive sports on TV does not mean I don’t love the game of football, and does not mean I’m not proud of my home team and excited to cheer them on no matter what the occasion. This is especially so when I find myself amidst the jubilation of so many other footballers.
Since this World Cup began, I have learned a lot about geography, language, a few cultural tidbits of individual countries, and even a little about the sport I have been playing for 20 years. I have also added a few memorable experiences to make my international life in Tanzania that much richer.
At a local Tanzanian bar, I made friends with two Australians, and then rolled my eyes as Christiano Ronaldo whipped off his shirt and flexed his muscles for a preliminary game that meant nothing (and subsequently wasn’t too downhearted to see them fail to make it to the next round.)
Surrounding a big screen and projector, I drank beers with people from all over the world as we watched Switzerland play Ecuador at a resort in Zanzibar.
I donned my American flag bandana and ate bratwurst at the Goethe German Cultural Center when the U.S. lost against Germany but secured their position to advance to the next round.
I got to watch the Netherlands make a come back and take down Mexico at a bar owned by a Dutchman amidst a sea of ecstatic orange colored supporters.
Last night I joined a large group of my fellow Americans in supporting our team with all sorts of American flag paraphernalia and a whole lot of spirit. It was a hard fought, heartbreaking loss, but it was wonderful to feel so close to home among my countrymen, even though I am so far away.
Overall, it’s not about who loves soccer the most, which fans can boast of their long lived devotion, or whether Americans are only participating in the jubilation to get out of work early. It’s about exerting a sense of patriotism, and joining your fellow world citizens in becoming a part of a global competition and celebration. I’ve never cared much before to watch the World Cup, but after my positive experience in Tanzania, I look forward to the next one.