OLYMPICS CAN'T COMPARE WITH THE WORLD CUP
By John F. Molinaro
Soccer is the world game, the No. 1 sport played in every corner of the
Yet, even with World Cup fever currently sweeping the globe, Canada and the United States are two of the small handful of countries that haven't been entirely seduced by the charms of the beautiful game.
Most American and Canadian sports fans turn their noses up at the World Cup because soccer is not their cup of tea (I don't have a problem with that) and try to downplay the significance of the tournament in the grand cultural spectrum (I have a big problem with that).
Sadly, the average North American sports fan simply doesn't understand,
or chooses not to understand, just how big of an event the World Cup really
Well, allow me to be the one to tell you.
Soccer is, by far, the most popular sport in the world. And the World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet, bar none. Period. Exclamation point! Case closed. End of discussion.
The World Cup is bigger than the Super Bowl. It is bigger than the Stanley Cup. It is bigger than the World Series. It is bigger than the Masters, the NBA finals, Wimbledon, and the Tour de France.
And, much to the chagrin of Monsieur Rogge and his minions over at the International Olympic Committee, the World Cup is even bigger than the Olympics.
Yes, you read that correctly. The World Cup is bigger than the "hallowed" Games.
It is part of the conceit of the IOC that it continually boasts that the
over-hyped, self-important and just plain dull Summer Olympics are the biggest
sporting event in terms of popularity, size and spectacle.
Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth.
Granted, it doesn't have the history or status of the Summer Games, but
the World Cup has something the Olympics will never have: the ability to
make billions of people around the world stop dead in their tracks for 90
Soccer has halted wars (a three-day cease fire was called in the Nigerian civil war in 1969 so that Pele and Brazilian team Santos could play two exhibition matches against local teams) and it has started wars (Honduras and El Salvador briefly fought in 1969 following a disputed World Cup qualifying match).
Kind of hard to imagine armed guerrillas in Central America going to war
over a judge's controversial decision in a synchronized swimming competition,
While the IOC struggles every four years to get people to tune into the bore-a-thon that is the Games, a cumulative television audience of 30 billion people in 213 countries around the world watched all 64 games of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
Heck, over 300 million tuned in last December to watch the group draw for the 2006 World Cup - 300 million just to see Sepp Blatter pull ping pong balls out of glass tumblers!
You want more evidence of just how big the World Cup is?
Consider this: FIFA, soccer's world governing body, is the largest sporting
organization in the world with 204 member countries, each one with a national
soccer team that competed in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers. By contrast,
only 202 countries competed at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and the United
Nations has a mere 191 member nations.
Or this: the most famous athlete on the planet, heck the most famous person on the planet, is David Beckham, captain of England. Becks is a bigger icon than Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds and Shaquille O'Neal.
But what really separates the World Cup apart from the Olympics is the profound impact it has on people of every race, religion, class, culture and creed.
Last month, a massive earthquake rocked Indonesia, killing more than 5,700 people, levelling thousands of houses and knocking out electricity.
To this day electricity is still generator-driven, only providing enough power for lights, and yet as these poor people struggle to put their lives together, their thoughts are divided between rebuilding their homes and finding a way to watch soccer.
"The World Cup is medicine to release our sorrow," said one survivor of the earthquake. "We hope the government or relief workers can provide power and TVs - not only food and medicine - so we can watch the World Cup."
Even in times of great tragedy, it's the beautiful game that matters most
John F. Molinaro is the editor
of CBC Sports Online's 2006 World Cup website. John covered the 2002 World
Cup, 2003 Champions League final and Euro 2004 for Sports Online. He also
won a CBC.ca Award of Excellence for his work on Sports Online's Euro 2004
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