FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament - Should it be Played Bi-Annually?
It has been a mere seven weeks since the perfectly conditioned and finely tuned soccer team from Spain was crowned FIFA World Cup Champions and believe it or not I already yearn for the opening ceremonies to begin again. Unlike the Olympics when I unenthusiastically remote control my way through the TV Guide and flag the one or two activities I might be interested in watching like water polo, synchronized swimming, and kayaking, then once the closing ceremonies are concluded I have little or no problem waiting another four long years until the Olympic torch once again begins it's arduous trans world trek across the globe, relayed from hand to hand until it finally reaches it's destination and the games officially begin again. However in contrast, the World Cup captivates my imagination more so than that adorable elderly maestro of the harmonica on America's Got Talent. The huge roaring crowds, the intense competitive atmosphere, observing all the A-list celebrities and dignitaries sitting regally in their VIP boxes trying so hard to suppress their true inner emotions and refrain from acting like mere mortal frenzied fans after their home team scores that ever elusive goal. It's truly a one of a kind sport which indeed attracts very unique fans. Another very attractive feature of the World Cup is the foreign exotic and romantic feel to it, unlike attending a typical baseball game and watching some slightly inebriated guy reach over the railing to try to catch Big Pappy's foul ball as half his beer spills on the head of a woman below who thinks it's a rain shower, she then grabs her umbrella in great haste, and as she opens it accidentally pokes the poor hot dog vendor in the eye before he has a chance to ring up his next sale.
So needless to say in contrast, just the overall atmosphere of the World Cup draws me in like an intense oceanic rip current and even though my team did not prevail this time around, I certainly enjoyed the competition each and every day. As usual there were a few surprises and that's difficult to avoid when you have 32 teams competing, some major upsets especially in the 1st round group play where at least one European soccer powerhouse was eliminated. In any event, this sports spectacular attracts more fans than any other sport on the face of the earth and probably for good reason, it's international, almost every nation in the world practically revolves around the game. It seamlessly crosses continental borders and cultures like no other sport does, this might be the most important reason why it's so popular. Almost every country in the world has a soccer team to represent it's respective peoples in qualifying and tournament play and we certainly can't say that about many other sports.
Here in the U.S. we have some premier games as well, gridiron football, baseball, basketball, and hockey etc. and yes without a doubt they are extremely popular, attracting loyal semi rabid fans like clockwork each and every season, but I think there is one major difference between these sports and soccer, and that is the title of 'World Champion". Although Baseball crowns a new " World Series " " World Champion " once a year can they really be called " World " Champs? They certainly have earned the right to be called "Champions", but "World Champions"? I sometimes ponder the same question regarding every other major domestic sport here in the U.S., Is the Title of " World Champion " Applicable? I think even the most diehard fan would have to agree when a particular team in any sport meets only domestic competition through the regular and playoff season as all football, baseball, basketball & hockey teams do, the term " World Champion " is probably not applicable. Yes they are superbly conditioned athletes and their achievement of reaching the pinnacle of their respective game cannot be denied and yes football, baseball & basketball are three of my favorite sports especially during fall and winter, but that being said, when the only competition you meet during the season is domestic I think it's fair to say the designation of "National Champion" would be more applicable. In my opinion the only true ' World Champions " other than olympic medalists would be the winners of the FIFA World Cup Tournament where all the teams meet international competition not just domestic. Almost every country and or state in the world competes if they choose to. They all must start with qualifying matches and as the games progress the field is narrowed down to the final 32 squads who then compete against each other during a grueling six week tournament. The last one just concluded in July 2010 and was held in breathtaking South Africa. Well in excess of 32 different countries actually vied for the title which makes this one of the most integrated sports event aside from the Olympics. A true " World Champion " in my opinion is crowned by FIFA, and International competition is essential to hold this prestigious title.
With that said let's touch on the business aspects of the world cup and needless to say it draws a massive volume of viewers due to it's international status and that of course means there's a massive amount of money involved. For those of you who may not be familiar with the sport, in some countries soccer is the equivalent of a spiritual experience, and in extreme cases just shy of being worshiped as a religion. Case in point - Brazil, I can only think of three examples that Brazilians hold to a higher praise than the soccer ball, and they are the thong, the nut, and Alessandra Negrini. So when you have massive viewers that usually means massive advertisement dollars spent during this six week extravaganza. The hype begins in April on all the major sports channels as a heads up for the up coming tournament. Then the commercials begin, and they are usually very warm upbeat " We are all one " type spots designed to tug at your heartstrings and bring the entire human race together. Usually the commercial depicts a little boy or girl in Europe or South America kicking a soccer ball around with a top notch pro player, speaking their native language with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen translating the dialogue. Very cute and appealing.Then when the actual competition begins the camera zooms into the entrance tunnel of the stadium where the team members from both squads are lined up ready to march onto the field or "pitch" as they call it, each player designated as escort for an individual youngster, another apparent show of world unity and warmth. Both teams then line up on the pitch, each national anthem is played, and then what many sports Journalist's refer to as a "civilized substitute for war"...I mean the game begins. If you've never seen a soccer game your first experience might be a little less than exciting, but once you get a few under your belt it may become your new found passion, but then again maybe not.
Once a year we get to watch one of the most exciting sports crown a champion at the Super Bowl. I think having the FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament every two years rather than every four is good for the game, good for the fans, and yes, good for business.
And just think of it this way, if the powers that be change the time frame in which it's played and apply the change retroactively back to June 2010, that means the next and last World Cup will take place in June 2012....6 months before the end of the world which according to the Mayan calendar is conveniently scheduled for December 2012.