ESPN is running these incredibly grating soccer-changes-the-world commercials for the World Cup. They show some poor barefooted kid standing on a soccer ball on a dirt road in an unnamed slum. The voiceover says, "All you need is a ball and a goal." To me, that explains why soccer is so popular in places like that. They can't afford a hoop or a bat or, God forbid, helmets and shoulder pads.
All you need is a ball or, in an earlier version, a human head. They could probably play for hours, although they might have to stop if somebody got their big toe stuck in an eye socket.
The voiceover goes on to claim that soccer can stop wars. I called ESPN to find out exactly which wars soccer had stopped. I quickly disappeared into a corporate labyrinth and never did get anything even close to a real answer. So I decided to do some research. I headed to the UA library.
(Note for those who accuse me of doing research online: Unless and until somebody invents a B.S. filter that is not tainted and/or distorted by political or religious shadings, I will not go to the Internet for any substantial information. I stand by P.J. O'Rourke's assertion that the only thing the Internet is good for is allowing bad ideas to go around the world at the speed of light. I'll stick with newspapers and magazines, which have problems of their own, but at least most of the stuff isn't being written by Chuck the Blogger in his mom's garage.)
I didn't find anything about soccer stopping any wars, but I did remember that Honduras and El Salvador fought the Soccer War in 1969. Both countries were vying for a spot in the 1970 World Cup. Tensions were high, because Honduras was upset that Salvadorans had been sneaking north across their border. (Why should anybody get mad about that? Maybe we should ask Vicente Fox, whose regime has been absolutely brutal with Guatemalans who sneak into the Mexican state of Chiapas to work in the coffee fields.)
Anyway, after a particularly tough match in which Honduran fans taunted the Salvadoran players and fans, the hostility spilled into the street, then into the air and onto the battlefield. The Honduran Air Force controlled the skies, but the Salvadoran Army plunged into Honduran territory before running out of supplies and ammunition. The war lasted less than a week, but thousands died, and nothing was settled. Sounds like a lot of wars.
Oh, and then there was the story of Argentina in the late 1970s. The country was being run by a junta of generals led by Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri. Political dissidents were becoming desaparecidos, and civil unrest was pushing the country toward civil war. But then Argentina won the 1978 World Cup, and everything was peachy. Galtieri (who lived up to his middle name) and his thugs were basically granted "four more years" of atrocities on their own people.
As the country began to slide toward civil war again, Galtieri did the only thing a ruler could do: He took the Orwellian route by whipping up patriotic fervor via the invasion of a group of islands inhabited mainly by sheep. The Falkland Islands were owned by the United Kingdom, but Galtieri claimed they were the Malvinas and took his country to war over them. The U.K. whupped 'em quickly, and the junta fell. But who knows how many Argentines could have been spared torture or death if the team hadn't won that darn World Cup in 1978?
Having said all that, I will still probably watch some of the games. I don't despise soccer, like most American sports fans. I just don't like it very much. It's not in my Top 10 of favorite sports, but it is ahead of bridge and curling. If I have to watch soccer, I prefer it to be played by kids I know. That way, if they don't score, I at least know it's because they stink. It sucks watching the best players in the world play and not score. That's just boring.
I will never understand the popularity of a sport where you can't use your hands. That's half a sport. And then the one guy who can use his hands sissies out and uses these oversized gloves that make him look like an early version of Mickey Mouse.
General rule of thumb (no pun intended): Anybody who doesn't trust his own hands and opts for gloves to catch a soft, inflated rubber ball (football, soccer ball, etc.) can't call himself an athlete.
I hope the United States wins some games, because that will really piss off people who take the game too seriously. I'll also root for my homies from Italy, but I hope an African team wins it all just so all the Europeans can be devastated. That's what sports are all about.