Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup, Anyone?

I don’t watch sports events, not even (gasp!) the World Cup playoffs. If it weren’t for occasional news feed items, I wouldn’t have known there were any games scheduled, much less that they were in South Africa, of all places.

However, our Lurker is indeed a sports fan. He watches ESPN a lot. A whole lot. Evidently political correctness has invaded even the realm of sports news because it’s obvious from a recent email that the Lurker has gone around the bend. Or rather, he’s been driven there by the commentary on ESPN.

His perfervid email is after the jump.

Meanwhile, I see that the entertainment has begun, though I don't know what this has to do with soccer, or why that man is wearing a flag as his neckscarf. Is this something known only to the cognoscenti?:

Here’s a report from Johannesburg:

The World Cup kicked off in front of 90,000 fans and a global audience of more than one billion as the biggest sporting event on earth came to Africa for the first time today.

Spectators inside Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, where the final will be held in four weeks, produced a deafening noise by blowing their vuvuzela horns.

Hmmm...if you see any of those vuvuzela horns, let me know. I couldn't find any.

So this is the biggest sporting event on earth?? My heavens. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than a middle school match. Soccer is a big deal, huh?

I looked at several news reports, trying to bridge the gap between my ignorance and the enthusiasm of one billion fans.

This Wall Street Journal essay brought me up to speed regarding the deficiencies of America’s ESPN when it comes to soccer reportage. This is good information to have since I’ve never seen ESPN (I know the ‘S’ must be for “Sports” and the ‘N’ for “Network” but the other two letters are mysteries).

The author says:

Turn on ESPN Friday, or in the 30 days that follow, and a regular viewer will be in for some surprises. The ever-present news ticker will often be gone from the screen bottom. The action on the field will be called in British cadences and analyzed by men with unfamiliar names and German, Dutch or (occasionally) American accents. And all that attention will be paid to soccer, 64 games altogether-the action (insert here skeptical crack about this being an oxymoron) coming right in the midst of the NBA finals, U.S. Open golf and the baseball season.

Well! Has this man just described a sports widow or what?
- - - - - - - - -
Golf, basketball and baseball will compete with the World Cup and millions of wives will lose their husband’s attention. It sounds serious, too: thirty days! I wonder if these chaps miss work or call in sick to watch the games.

Starting with the opening match between host South Africa and Mexico, the World Cup happens to be the biggest sporting event on Earth. ESPN, which for the first time fully owns the English-language rights here, has decided to behave as if America hails from that same planet. It is either a visionary or a foolhardy experiment in sports culture-building on soccer’s final frontier. The outcome may be tougher to peg than the winner on the pitch.

I’m not even going to try to interpret that except to note that this fellow seems to have thrown in a cricket expression just for larfs. And he appears to be saying that America lacks a certain something when it comes to soccer?

Of course, Americans aren’t soccer newbies. Youth leagues are robust. Immigrants, particularly Hispanic ones, carry their love of the sport to the U.S. The audience in America for the 2006 final in Berlin, immortalized by Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt in the closing minutes of the France-Italy match, was larger than for the NBA championship that year.

Of that American audience, how many spoke American as their native language? Don’t even bother explaining what a “head-butt” is. Obviously after a certain amount of exposure these fellows suffer from cauliflower brains, no?

But broadcasters in the past strived to make the game palatable to nonfans, peddling a sort of soccer for dummies.

That’s my contingent right there. The soccer dummies. But number me among those who plan to wallow in their ignorance. Massively large crowds filed with wild enthusiasm make me nervous. The next thing you know, some little fellow with a moustache and fierce eyes will show up goosestepping and set in to seizures of guttural bellowing.

American play-by-play men who knew little about the game sat in studios often an ocean away. Four years ago, the Boston Red Sox radio man Dave O’Brien called the final on ABC, and came in for heavy criticism from the cognoscenti. Univision was the refuge for die-hard fans, non-Spanish speakers included, who were annoyed by ESPN’s limited and patronizing approach to the sport.

Well isn’t that just like us? If it’s not played here do we want to know about it? Were I inclined to be a sports fan at all, this one would probably be of interest. Men in short shorts running about the field has a certain appeal.

This time around, ESPN will tailor its coverage to viewers who put their lives on hold for 30 days straight. The pretense is that American sport fans fall into that category, or will soon enough. SportsCenter will be broadcast from a studio above Soccer City in Johannesburg throughout the tournament. Every game will be live and called from stadiums there. And the ticker? TV timeouts or commercial plugs? Gone-to limit distractions during uninterrupted 45-minute halves of play.

Now this is amazing. No red-blooded American gives up his bajillion commercials and times-out which permit him to leave the room to get more chips and beer. I mean, who is going to pay for such indulgence?? This is obviously undue and murky foreign influence.

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Meanwhile, in Britain, they are betting the house on these games. No, make that the country: they’re betting the whole country on this experience:

Britons are expected to bet around a billion pounds, breaking all records, with the growth of online gambling seeing many more people becoming punters [and just what is a punter when he’s up and dressed? - D]

But gamblers are seemingly not just backing England -- bets are going on a whole variety of teams, matches and outcomes.

“It’s huge, really surging this week and going into a World Cup frenzy for football fans,” Darren Haines, spokesman for bookmakers Paddy Power, told AFP.

“We anticipate one-billion-pounds being gambled industry-wide, and the further England go in the tournament, it’s more likely that this figure will be comfortably surpassed.

“It will be the biggest betting event in British history, without a doubt.”

Betting shop chain William Hill also predicted a one-billion-pound World Cup turnover for the industry in Britain.

“This is the World Cup in which Internet betting has really come into its own,” spokesman Graham Sharpe told AFP.

“We have online clients in 188 countries who are betting on the World Cup, which dilutes the impact of everyone betting on England.

“If England reach the final and lose on penalties to New Zealand, that would be perfect for us.”

Zounds! We’re in an economic ‘downturn’ and somehow folks find a collective billion pounds to throw on these…games? It must be at least partially a testosterone thing, though none in my family were particularly athletically inclined. As for the Baron, being out on a soccer field in February in the north of England whilst chasing a black and white ball around pretty much soured him on “organized” sports.

In fact, he considers those two words incompatible, believing we should all live on our memories of childhood pick-up games played in the neighborhood until it got too dark to see or your mother called you home. He thinks grownups should limit their physical activities to mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, and maybe swimming on vacation. Chasing little kids around (if you have any) is perfectly acceptable, too. I reminded him that moving furniture under the direction of one’s wife is also within normal limits, but you know I don’t think he even heard me.

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And thus we come to the reason for all this: the Lurker’s email. But first, an advisory:

this just in from the Lurker’s sports desk…

The story making the rounds on the sports shows this afternoon is the release of information that World Cup officials are requiring all referees to learn curse words in English. This is so they will know when they are being sworn at. No other language instructions are forthcoming, so… I wonder if all the English speaking players are at this hour learning Somali?

Hmm…I hadn’t thought of that. Imagine the Italians swearing at the Swedes. Or the Romanians letting out a Romanian blue streak at the Spanish. Who would ever know? The person in question could claim (I won’t say he’d swear) that he was only invoking the angels and saints on his behalf. Who’s to know?

When I first received the Lurker’s epistle, I was mystified. What was he talking about? The Baron explained how even sports news has become contaminated with the hate-America-first virus. That made sense: why should sports reporters be any less elitist than the rest of 'em? Fortunately, I understand the Lurker’s strange, engineer’s kind of humor so I got the point of this screed.

It could only have come from the pen (okay, keyboard) of a sports nut.

[for the humor-impaired, this is satire. Kind of. Well, let’s call it satire and a nightmare scenario. Even with those billions in bets, Britain can’t afford to win this particular prize. For those who don’t know how thoroughly the leftist slant has infected even ESPN, here’s the Lurker’s lurid vision through the eyes of the sports media]

My heavens. Will it never come? Will it never get here?

I can only wait so long for what the world really needs to hear, and it’s not incessant blathering by any right wing, so-called conservative web-blogs discussing cultural enrichment and such.

This week, in that former nest of villainy and white oppression, South Africa, the World Cup begins. (thank gawd they threw out the whites and improved everything)

But this event is far more important than even their great liberation. This is the week that we finally will be able to rectify history’s biggest mistake.

See, via the defeat of the U.S. by England in the World Cup playoffs will come the end of the country. I mean the people will still be there, but the country will henceforth be called “that nation formerly known as the United States of America”.

The scheduled event is June 12. This is the day that has been reported as the moment England soundly defeats America’s team.

Finally, this game will be the tipping point. After that, Lord Obama will have to answer to the world. He will have to return these lands and people back to their rightful owners from whom they were taken centuries ago.

I’m talking about that most dastardly act of terrorism commonly referred to as the Revolutionary War.

When England defeats the colonies once and for all during the World Cup playoffs, those usurping rebels will return to their rightful place of unexceptional. When America loses, instead of giving back Churchill’s bust, Lord Obama must return the whole country back to the original owners.

No amount of winning hearts and minds, financing and fixing loans, or interfering in others’ business will substitute for the defeat of the American team.

So no more of this talk of self-reliance and individualism and exceptionalism. Instead, America will be put in its place once and for all. Never again will they be able to continue in the harm they have wrought on this world.

This loss is the determining factor. This is the weapon we have chosen. We will defeat them in a game at which they do not excel or care for. That will be their downfall and they shall acknowledge it before the world.

Nothing else matters now. The coverage of this event by ESPN will be stupendous. The reporters at ESPN have already achieved their status by incessantly harping on the importance and significance of this event and how America is ill-prepared to even attempt any type of chance of pulling victory from the jaws of defeat.

No other news story matters or can matter. The only news that need be discussed, continuously, is the defeat of America’s team. And it will be, believe me.

Upon this magnificent defeat, it would be good for Lord Obama to journey to South Africa, the continent of his birth, and display to all the world that he represents all of America and Americans. He can do this by bowing his deepest yet to every other team in the world while ignoring his own.

Then America will take its rightful place among nations of the world. Those Americans will then know how the rest of the world views them. Maybe they will finally act accordingly and lose their uppity attitude.

My heavens. Will it never come? Will it never get here?

After reading some sports reports, I understood only too well how the Lurker came to write this. America is a scapegoat in every part of the media. There’s no exit.

For all the World Cup addicts, see you next month!


ZZMike said...

For the benefit of those newly-arrived from a distant planet, ESPN is "Entertainment Programming Sports Network". How the "entertainment" fits in there is a mystery to me, as I'm singularly uninterested in any game played with any object circular in any cross-section. Pawns excepted.

"Vuvuzela horns" (also called "lepatata horns") are a sort of miniature Alpenhorn, only not quite so musical.

heroyalwhyness said...

How to blow the Vuvuzela via YouTube

Vuvuzela permitted for 2010 World Cup


brx said...

I was born in N.C., I'm white and grew up watching and playing football and basketball. I thought soccer was boring until I caught a World Cup game in '06. It was pretty exciting. Now I am a soccer fan. However I only World Cup and the European leagues. Not because I'm a snob, but because the best players in the world (even from America) play in Europe, particularly England, Spain and Italy.

The thing I like most about soccer is that the action never stops, and they add a few extra minutes to the end of each half to make up for any time lost to injuries, penalties, etc. Its a looser attitude to sport. In football, they're always challenging calls, measuring distances to the inch and stopping play for commercials. In soccer there's three officials and their word is final. I like that.

The U.S. hosted World Cup in 1994 and still holds the attendance record. England will probably beat us, but if the press makes a big deal of it we might get motivated and come back in 2014 to dominate Europe and the world in yet another category. We thrive on adversity.

Anonymous said...

brx, I'm not much of a football fan(the real name of the sport, duh), but what I like about it compared to all the other sports is that it doesn't have a ton of commercial breaks. Just watch a NBA Finals game - 3 hours for 48 minutes of play time? That's ridiculous.

heroyalwhyness said...

Dymphna asks: "So this is the biggest sporting event on earth?? My heavens."

Well, the World Cup may indeed be the 'biggest' sporting event on earth but we all know THIS is the WORLD's FAVORITE SPORT.

brx said...

I call it soccer so I don't have to constantly differentiate between American football and futbol.
I agree that the best thing about soccer is the lack of commercials. I abhor commercials.

One_of_the_last_few_Patriots_left said...

The only thing I've ever liked about soccer is watching the drunken soccer hooligans rioting and trashing the host city after the game.
When the time comes, I hope to see the rioting "footballers" give the Musulmen a taste of their own medicine.

Anonymous said...


The Observer said...

In England the whole country comes to a halt whenever the English national team is playing a World Cup match. Everybody heads for the nearest pub and have a jolly good time.

I don’t think England is going to win the World cup though there are simply too many other strong teams out there. The Brits won the World Cup in 1966, and the way they go on about it you’d think that it happened last year.

Sean O'Brian said...

I think Holland may win this year if the team doesn't mutiny as in previous World Cups.

Avery Bullard said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Professor L said...

Of that American audience, how many spoke American as their native language?

Dymphna, I hope that too was said in jest. Surely you realise that you speak the Queen's English?

And Avery, being Australian, we do officially call it football (Football Federation Australia, I believe it is). In colloquial use, however, football can refer to Union, League, Soccer or Aussie Rules (and so we generally clarify by using those names).

In the end though, the basic premise of them all is the same - use various human appendages to propel a piece of inflated dead cowskin about a pitch and try and cross a few white lines, preferably between a few poles.

Dymphna said...

@ LAW Wells--

Dymphna, I hope that too was said in jest. Surely you realise that you speak the Queen's English?

Which Queen we be talking about here?

I was informed by a most bellicose bloke from Eire that I do not speak English since I use "y'all"...didn't want to tell him about the correct usage of "all of y'all" (that's more than two people).

@ZZ Mike--

On my planet, out near the Big Dipper, we don't have ESPN. In fact, we don't have a TV on which to watch it. I have never seen it, don't ever plan to see it, and am extremely grateful that the Baron doesn't have the time or inclination to watch television.

I'd much rather watch the drama on the front consists of the sometimes frantic distractions a phoebe is making for our cat, in order to avoid having said feline notice the nest she built over the porch light. No referees but me - I try to keep the cat out of the game. Other than that, there's nothing I can do to help her.

Anyhow, thanks for explaining the full ESPN acronym. I'd never have guessed "Entertainment".