Global sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup are the only times when geopolitics, gender equality, power struggles or economic disparity have absolutely nothing to do with the national pride that is experienced by those watching. I mean, if these things played a role then I would have been terrified to see an EU member country beating Russia in a Moscow-hosted tournament. I’m an Ethiopian and we’re never anywhere near the World Cup but I still feel an attachment to my favorite team from childhood (cough – BRAZIL – cough cough) and we may not hold too much power in the world but we kick butt in a good marathon! Every World Cup I hear many of my fellow Americans complain about how they are not watching because they find the sport boring. Americans often say that they cannot get behind a game in which ninety minutes could go by with only one point or, God forbid, no points scored.
I never understood this notion. The NFL point system applies six points for every touch down, seven with the extra point and three points for field goals so really the scoring would be lower if it were one point per contact with the end zone and those games go on for hours. They also stop and reset every time some commotion happens, which makes me feel like I’m watching endless commercial breaks. Baseball is an American favorite as well but I honestly believe it was designed to watch the first inning and then fall asleep until the last or second to last because those games seem to take years. With these two favorite past times being so slow and painstaking, I could not understand how soccer could possibly be seen in that dimmed light by this one part of the world. When I thought about it on a cultural level, though, it began to make more sense.
When you take a step back it is hard to see how soccer speaks the language of the country’s culture. America has three scores in Hofstede’s cultural dimensions that stood out to me when compared to the top three World Cup winning countries: individualism, long-term orientation, and indulgence. Individualism scores high, which tells us that outside of individuals and their directly immediate family it is atypical to feel a deep connection or cohesiveness. Indulgence is the concept of controlling impulses and experiencing difficulty in being able to exercise restraint. The US scores rather high in these two areas in comparison to Germany, Brazil and Italy. Long-term orientation is an area where the United States scored significantly lower than the compared countries, meaning that America is more interested in succeeding with what they have and view change with a lot of mistrust.
When combined, these three dimensions create a cultural dynamic that is unique to this country. It is the place that practically invented the “get rich quick” career choice, where new ideas are viewed as reckless long before they become innovative and where the self is a higher priority than the collective. All of this tells us that the culture believes in achieving much, achieving quickly and being able to point to what you achieved as proof without rocking the boat for the next achievement. This is not necessarily a bad thing and is probably why America has remained successful for so long in an ever-changing global structure. However, it does make enjoying a game like soccer difficult for most Americans.
In baseball there is nothing happening for the vast majority of the game, but once that bat and ball make contact it results in either points gained or an out. In American football there is nothing being scored for most of the game but that contact between players will result in constant inching toward one desired destination. In soccer the movement of the ball is constantly changing direction, the possession is always going back and forth and there is so much more time spent in motion before achieving each goal. Although there are fewer points scored, the constant motion puts significant fatigue on a player and that only makes the control of the game that much more challenging. To most cultures that type of quiet strength in endurance and being able to maintain virtuosity in ball control is admired but I can almost hear the “Just get on with it already” from the American readers of this post. Being a first-generation American I can understand the disconnect but I always wished that it was something the majority of the country could get behind. In short, instead of waiting for the final score I hope my fellow Americans can try to appreciate the artistry that lies within the process. After the disappointment of the sports bar scene for this World Cup – I’m begging you, America…please.