(HOST) Today, commentator Olin Robison talks about the World Cup competition, which has occupied so much world attention over the last month.
(ROBISON) It was stiffling hot on June 25th in Stuttgart, Germany, when England and Ecuador faced off in one of the play-off games of the World Cup. Well into the second half of a scoreless game, the captain of the English team, David Beckham, placed a flawless free kick into the net just out of the reach of the Ecudorian goal keeper. England held on to win the game one to nothing and thereby advance to the semi-final round of play.
England practically went wild in celebration. No less than the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that Beckham’s successful free kick was worth one hundred million pounds to the British economy — that, dear friends, is almost two hundred million dollars. The staid establishment newspaper The Times of London immediately produced a sixteen-page supplement giving more details on the World Cup than most people would want to know, and the entire front page of The Independent, the main rival newspaper of The Times, was devoted to the headline “The Feel Good Effect.”
A couple of weeks earlier I was in Seoul, South Korea on the evening when the South Korean team played their first game of the Cup playoffs against the tiny African nation of Togo. The game was, of course, played in far away Germany, and the game started at 10 pm Seoul time. Despite the hour, and despite the probability that most Koreans couldn’t locate Togo on a map, well over 100,000 people – all in bright red T-shirts, were gathered in Seoul Plaza in the middle of the city to watch the game on giant television screens. The South Koreans won that game but in due course failed to advance toward the finals.
The final game is this coming weekend in Berlin, and, at least at this point in time, it isn’t clear just which teams will be playing. All the games have been in Germany, which has received high marks from one and all for hosting the games exceptionally well. All over Germany there is a resurgence of national pride, and Lufthansa, the German national airline, has even repainted the nose-cones of many of their airplanes to look like giant soccer-balls. It does help somewhat that the German national team has performed well in the competition.
All of this is orchestrated by the international football federation called FIFA (spelled F.I.F.A. and pronounced FIE-FAH or FEE-FAH, depending on your country of origin). The name is a French acronym, and the organization is headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. It is noteworthy that there are more member nations of FIFA than there are member countries of the United Nations.
I go on about all this simply because the World Cup is a very big deal in most of the rest of the world. It is definitely more global than the World Series and is watched around the world by far more people than watch the Super Bowl.
The US team was actually at the beginning of the tournament seeded number five in the thirty-two team competition but failed in the end to make the cut for any of the final rounds.
So, dear friends, pay attention this weekend. There is an opportunity this Sunday afternoon to join much of the rest of the world in watching the final game from Berlin. This really is what most of the rest of the world refers to as “The Beautiful Game.”
Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.