I had lunch yesterday afternoon in a casual restaurant in the heart of Washington, DC. It wasn’t a sports bar but there were three TVs tuned into the US/Czech World Cup match. The surprising thing was that my fellow patrons were rooting against the United States. It wasn’t the whole restaurant but it was the majority of those who seemed to care about the outcome. And it didn’t appear to be a Czech thing–this was no middle European crowd hoisting steins of lager. So if this is any example, people are taking a complex approach in deciding who to cheer for during this year’s World Cup.
The most popular sporting event in the world, and one that–in our globalized times–is increasingly impinging on the consciousness of Americans, the World Cup is passionately followed by tens of millions of people around the world, all rooting for their compatriots. But how do you choose who to cheer for when your own team isn’t playing (or if it didn’t qualify)? You could pick the country with the coolest flag (Brazil)? Maybe the best holiday destination or food (got to be Italy or France)? Perhaps the place where you’ve spent your best vacation? Or you could go the political route by refusing to support countries involved in the war in Iraq or with bad human rights records. How about rooting for the team that gives the most aid to poor countries? Perhaps cheering on the country that spends the most on healthcare? Or booing the nation with the largest per capita weapons budget? You get the idea.
These suggestions are drawn from the World Development Movement website, which is highlighting a nifty tool to help soccer fans choose who to shout for when their own team isn’t on the pitch. Using ten relevant criteria, the tool allows you to compare things like income inequality, carbon emissions and military and health spending. It’s a neat way to learn a little something while you go about deciding which country to root for in a given contest.
And speaking of soccer, my colleague Carl Bromley, the intrepid editor of Nation Books, would kill me if I neglected to plug a great new book he’s just released by Financial Times correspondent Simon Kuper. After traveling to twenty-two countries to watch and play soccer, Kuper has produced an astonishing study on the frightening intersection between soccer and politics. His book’s title gives away his thesis–Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World’s Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions And Keeps Dictators in Power–but his powerful prose will keep even non-fans at the edge of their seats.