America and World Sport

I went to a baseball game a few weeks’ back. It was the most contrived, soul-less load of rubbish I have seen in a long time. Granted, the Baltimore Orioles are hardly the best ambassadors of “America’s game,” but please: even though the Orioles were getting thrashed, the crowd still responded to every call by the PA announcer to “cheer” or “clap.” It was TV-sport, as satisfying as a TV-dinner.

Fast forward to today. I have been fighting tears hearing of England’s victory over Australia in the “Ashes” cricket series. This epic battle began over a month ago when I was still at home. It just finished, and until a few hours ago, the outcome of the series was still up in the air. I am deliriously happy that England have triumphed, and gutted that I can only listen to it online. The tension, the skill, the sportsmanship of cricket is second-to none. Cricket is, absolutely, definitely, the world’s greatest sport.

Football (soccer) and rugby follow closely behind.

Now, whilst the rest of the world enjoys the agony and ecstasy of international sport, America plays its games on its own. I actually like American sport. The NFL started this week-end, and I do quite enjoy the strategized violence of gridiron. And I can even understand the passion of Red Sox/Yankees hatred. But two things bug me about Americans and sport. First, the isolationism. Second, the silliness symbolized by last night’s Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts game. You see, the Colts used to be in Baltimore but moved to Indy. The Ravens used to be the Cleveland Browns. So last night it was really Baltimore vs. Baltimore. Or was it Cleveland vs. Baltimore?

So, whilst Americans have been fussing over the “World Series” (what crap!), international sport has replaced war as the battlefield of the nations. Today we English relish every victory over the Germans in football (and suffer through every defeat). The feel-good factor surrounding national sporting success should not be underestimated. The poor old Yanks, however, get no such opportunity: sure there’s the odd Olympic “Dream Team” success, but it’s not the same as winning World Cup bragging rights. Yanks have had a taste of this: think of the famous ice hockey victory over the Soviets (pivotal in the winning of the Cold War). But if Americans continue to play games no-one else cares about, and insist that the Superbowl winner is somehow the “World Champion,” their isolation from the rest of the world will continue. This is a bad thing. The Taliban vs. the USA at football would have been a lot cheaper than a war.

You can put this right. The Yanks have qualified for next year’s soccer World Cup. I hope the USA get behind their only team that plays a game the world actually cares about.



  1. So, you’ve never heard of the 1969 Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras? Of course, if I have to go back to 1969, that conflict may not represent much beyond itself.On the broader issue, I prefer not to restrict all six billion of us to a world-wide monoculture of sport. I like that Lacrosse is immensely popular in Maryland and almost unheard of most sections of the United States. I like that kids in Michigan are much more interested in hockey than the ones in Maryland. The idea is appealing that there are schools in England that play old variants of football that none but themselves care about. I also don’t mind that Americans, Cubans, Dominicans, Japanese, Koreans, and Taiwanese enjoy a game that is irrelevant to most the world.


  2. It is also charming that you find great pleasure in following cricket. Besides England and her former colonies, do any other countries play it?


  3. I know you’re baiting me John. Don’t underestimate the former English colonies – 600 million Indians can’t be wrong. < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Yanks play cricket too<>, apparently.So, a few Baltimoreans were overjoyed to see Hopkins become NCAA lacrosse champions. Take that joy and imagine it stoking the pride of the nation were the USA to thrash France in the World Cup final. Americans seem very down on themselves recently. I’m just trying to help you.


  4. I am teasing a bit about cricket. but it does weaken your argument for international sport when you illustrate it with a game whose worldwide popularity is closer to that of baseball than to that of soccer. I hope my comment about “old variants of football” wasn’t misconstrued as mocking soccer and rugby. I had read LaCarre’s <>Our Game<> last week, and “the notion of Winchester football” was on my mind.I do have some sense of the excitement you want to promote. I was in Argentina when that country won the World Cup in Mexico in 1986. I was late getting to a house where I watched the quarter-final against England. Motion on the streets was heavy before the game began, and then everything was still. During the final against Germany, I have particular memories of cheers going up at every goal from all the surroundings.If the U.S. did take more interest in international competition, I have doubts it would be satisfying for anyone. The U.S. is a rich country with a quarter billion people to draw on, so when it wins there is no sense of accomplishment and just the sort of resentment the NY Yankees foster.


  5. Ronan: three points —1. Cricket is not exciting. Especially when listened to over the radio. The only sports that come close in terms of the dullness factor are baseball and curling. (Although curling has its moments of drama)2. A USA victor over the Tailiban on the Soccer field would have left the Tailiban in power in Afghanistan. The American penchant for competing with the rest of the world on the battlefield is not without its virtues.3. I agree with you about international sports, but I still dearly love March Madness and college football bowls. And real football. And real basketball.


  6. Isn’t it too late to start over and try to convince the amercian public that international sports such as footy and cricket (internationality in question) are the ones that matter? It seems like the the damage has been done and there is no turning back. But, hey, lets move forward and convince the world that our violent and oh so american sport of football is the N.U.I.S.C (new and unanimous international sport of choice). If you question the existance of the movement I refer you to the recent game between the 49ers and Cardinals in Mexico City. A foreign sport in a foreign land embraced by 100,000 strong.


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