Why Should I Care About the World Cup? A Rational Conversation

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I’m finally ready to come out… as completely apathetic to the World Cup. I don’t get it, and it makes me feel sort of funny with regards to American international relations and our need to be The Best. Tom Hawking — Flavorwire senior editor, unapologetic Australian male, and participant in World Cup-related fun-having — has agreed to convince me of the competition’s merits over chat. I feel it is a safe space for me to finally reveal the least popular American opinion since the Beygency emerged. In a lot of ways, World Cup is the Beyoncé of sports. We get into this, and the reasons why a non-sports fan would enjoy World Cup pandemonium, below.

Jillian Mapes: On a scale of 1 to 10, how into World Cup are you?

Tom Hawking: I’d say… 7? I like football because I used to live in England.

Jillian Mapes: “Football.” Help me understand. Why World Cup?

Tom Hawking: Well, to an extent I guess that means answering why one would like sports in general. Do you enjoy watching any sport?

Jillian Mapes: I don’t participate in sport culture at all. But I understand the basic appeal.

Tom Hawking: At its most basic level, the World Cup is teams from around the world playing perhaps the world’s most universally popular sport.

Jillian Mapes: I guess my question is, World Cup inspires such extreme fervor in people who do not otherwise care about sports. Can we blame patriotism for this?

Tom Hawking: It’s something that pretty much every country cares about to some extent, and it’s probably only the Olympics that also involve (or potentially involve) every nation, so in that respect the WC’s appeal is universal. So to some extent, I would say yes. There are certainly people who get very fired up to cheer for their country. I like it because I like football and like watching it be played at a high level. But sure, I do cheer for Australia. There are def countries that take it VERY SERIOUSLY.

Jillian Mapes: Do you not think America is one of those? Despite, you know, people outside of the coasts not caring as much.

Tom Hawking: Not compared to, say, Brazil. I would say America is like Aus, in that once every four years people who don’t really care about the sport get interested and excited about it. Whereas if Brazil had gotten dumped out in the first round, Rio and Sao Paulo would probably be places where you’d be staying indoors for a couple of days.

Jillian Mapes: Oh god. I feel like patriotism is not enough to explain this, though. Why is every bar in my neighborhood flooded with people watching World Cup? It’s people who don’t necessarily participate in sport culture this intensely ever… not even for the Olympics! Which, OK, yes, I can get into… but not because of patriotism. I just like gymnastics and figure skating.

Tom Hawking: It’s true, and it’s not just patriotism. To some extent I think it’s just because it’s a Big Event.

Jillian Mapes: So we’re all just following the crowd?

Tom Hawking: It’s like the Olympics — you have people who would never dream of turning on the TV to watch the athletics world championships who sit glued to the TV for the 100-meter final. It’s seen as the zenith of that particular sport, so it draws people’s attention.

Jillian Mapes: It’s just funny because, like with World Cup, it’s not a sport whose televised version really draws much attention in America.

Tom Hawking: Yeah, exactly. I think people to some extent are just attracted by the idea of seeing who the best in the world at any given thing is. Like, very few people watch challenger events on the ATP circuit, or even actual tour events, but loads of people tune into Wimbledon or the US Open.

Jillian Mapes: I do think we have an obsession with this, regardless of what the competition is.

Tom Hawking: I think there’s just a natural curiosity around the peak event of any sport. Way more people tuned into the NBA finals than would have watched a Heat/Spurs game earlier in the year… because it’s a big event and the stakes are higher.

Jillian Mapes: I feel downright un-American not caring about any of this.

Tom Hawking: Hahahaha, I mean I am kinda interested in how much Americans do care about it, just because American sports culture in general is so insular (e.g., all your four big sports are home-grown and not cared about anywhere near as much in other places).

Jillian Mapes: I suppose I also feel like World Cup maybe, possibly, is another example of American xenophobia, or another way we get to prove that we’re the best, even when our culture does not even value soccer!

Tom Hawking: That’s definitely true. It’s interesting for me because I come from a country that has very deliberately tried to define itself and prove its worth via sports. America prefers to do so by invading people, but still, the World Cup is a thing where you can Be The Best.

Jillian Mapes: I have a very unpopular opinion on top of my already unpopular opinion: World Cup makes me feel weird given our international relations.

Tom Hawking: I mean, yeah, I can def see that. And because America is such an intensely, determinedly patriotic country already.

Jillian Mapes: R.L. Stine (yes, that R.L. Stine) had this great tweet a couple years ago I will never forget: “I’m so glad I live in New York, not America.” So it’s so fascinating to me that New Yorkers LOVE World Cup. I asked some friends back in Ohio if they care about World Cup a lot. They were like, “Ehhh, I mean, shrug.”

Tom Hawking: To an extent I suspect it may be because NY is such an international city. There are people here from a lot of countries that really, really do care about the WC, and that’s somewhat contagious!

Jillian Mapes: This is true! So I can’t just blindly dislike World Cup. It’s not that. It’s that I don’t get it. Why should I?

Tom Hawking: Um, well, I would say that you can appreciate it as a spectacle, and a display of footballing skill, and an event that catches the attention of a LOT of people. And you can do so without embracing its patriotic side!

Jillian Mapes: How is that possible?

Tom Hawking: You don’t have to cheer for the USA! Cheer for Colombia! They’re underdogs still in the competition, and they’re a great side to watch. (As an aside: I find it interesting that people think that appreciating a sport HAS to involve rooting for a certain team. Like, I really, really like basketball, but I don’t really follow one team… because I like the sport itself, not the idea of being partisan and loving one team and hating all the others.)

Jillian Mapes: I don’t know or value sportsmanship enough to watch just for the sake of watching, because half the time I don’t understand what I’m watching.

Tom Hawking: Yeah, I mean, that’s fair. Although football isn’t that hard to understand: 11 dudes on each side, trying to kick the ball into the net at one end of the field or the other.

Jillian Mapes: No, yeah, I think I get it. I heard there is top removal too…

Tom Hawking: Yes, sometimes. I mean the dudes are all pretty hot, too, so there’s that.

Jillian Mapes: Unrelated to hot bods: Am I alone? Do you know others who are completely apathetic to World Cup? Do you know people who hate World Cup?

Tom Hawking: I know surprisingly few people who HATE it. I know plenty who are largely indifferent. There are definitely many reasons to dislike and/or disapprove of it, but they’re more to do with FIFA being an institutionally corrupt bunch of terrible people than anything else.

Jillian Mapes: Knowing that would require being interested. It’s muted apathy at most. World Cup is the Beyoncé of sports.

Tom Hawking: It’s true, no one hates Beyoncé. *ducks for cover*

Jillian Mapes: … Except you.