Whether one is a sports fan or not, it would be hard to avoid the hype surrounding the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which begins today. Special edition magazines fill the shelves, newspapers feature full inserts, marketers have plastered signs with advertisements featuring local heroes, and television adds have been running all spring. Just what is all the fuss about?
It's called "The Beautiful Game," and as such, can be quite wonderful. Play never stops, except for halftime, incredible athletic ability is showcased at the top levels, and even a newcomer can observe a game and follow its basic rules and flow. However, there are some detractions, such as fake fouls, over-dramatized injuries, horrendously inconsistent refereeing, and misbehaving fans. Still, soccer ("football" everywhere else but in North America) is a unifying interest around the globe. It is truly THE cosmopolitan sport. I have been on the streets of Venice, Nice, and Cardiff and gotten into conversations with locals inspired by some jersey I was wearing. My children, likewise, have been hugged, high-fived, and saluted because of the donning of their hero's colors. If common ground is the secret to ice breaking, a love of The Beautiful Game has to be one of the most useful for the global traveler.
So each country fields a team featuring its (supposedly) best players, in an Olympic-style face-off of nation vs. nation (or, in football terminology, "nation v. nation"). Patriotism runs rampant, flags and national colors get painted everywhere, and those annoying plastic horns get blown non-stop (one reason English football is my favorite, English fans being much too sophisticated to succumb to such annoying behavior, opting instead for singing hilarious and sometime ribald songs in stadium-unison - an amazing thing to behold!). It's hype and sport-induced tension at its most elevated level.
Really, though, it's just a game, and that matronly reminder may as well be left unsaid, falling on deaf ears as it does. The truth is, who cares if it's just a game? It's fun, it's exciting, and it's entertaining. I, for one, enjoy the spectacle of countries from around the planet coming together in a restrained bit of ball play. It sure is better than war and politics and everything else that passes for important these days.
Besides, I have learned almost as much watching and participating in sports as I have doing anything else. Success, integrity, character, class, victory, defeat, perseverance, practice, training, coaching, mentoring, injury, emotional control, clutch performance, goal-setting, delayed gratification, physical conditioning, team play, game planning, score keeping, performance measuring, feedback, influence, marketing, messaging, motivation, and a thousand other buzzwords are all amplified and communicated through participation in an artificial construct called "Sports." Hey, it works for me.
I know, I know, one can go too far. Certainly. After all, I've got my own dreams to chase. If I were to live too vicariously through a bunch of guys kicking a ball around, I would be deserving of the title spoken in the movie Dumb and Dumber: "One pathetic loser!" But I still enjoy sports, and especially the Beautiful Game - especially at World Cup time.
So take in a game or two. Get interested in the people behind the hype. See if you can find inspiration and warmth in the stories of some of the lives of the athletes, such as Brazilian star Kaka who has recently come to faith in Christ and proclaims it publicly and joyously, or the rag-tag underdog team from the United States, who aren't given much of a chance. Who knows, you just might learn something, and I'm fairly certain you'll be entertained along the way.
1st place: SPAIN
2nd place: BRAZIL
3rd place: NETHERLANDS
(But I'm pulling for the American boys all the way).
Care to offer your predictions? I'll award a signed copy of Orrin Woodward and my best-seller Launching a Leadership Revolution to whomever gets first, second, and third place correct (or the closest). Predictions must be in by Friday, June 11th at 8:00pm EST. Good luck!