On July 16, my 18-year-old son Dan dressed up in everything he owns that resembles the American flag (shirt, shorts, bandana) and went with his friends to Grant Park in Chicago to watch the U.S. play Ghana in an opening round game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
He looked like an idiot. When the TV networks flashed video of the crowd at Grant Park during and after the game, I thought sure I would be able to pick him out based on what he wore. But he looked like every other fan among the thousands who attended the party (and hopefully less inebriated).
When John Brooks scored the game-winner to give the U.S. a key 2-1 victory, Dan said the park crowd erupted in a way he had never experienced before. Videos of similar watch parties around the country, as well as one in Afghanistan with U.S. troops, showed the overwhelming appeal of international sporting events.
During the day-long celebration of the victory (which put the U.S in a good position to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament), I also saw the celebration that took place in Accra, the capital city of the Republic of Ghana, when its national team scored its goal to tie the game 1-1 just minutes before Brooks’ game-winner. Knowing the eventual outcome, I felt bad for the Ghanaians, because they were just minutes away from a huge disappointment.
And I do mean huge. The outcome of that game mattered to more Americans than it did Ghanaians in terms of total people, but not in terms of percentage of citizens.
John Oliver, the comedian who is now host of his own late-night TV news show Last Week Tonight on HBO, is from England, and is a noted soccer fan. He has to be, seeing as how he is not American.
In his scathing and hilarious rip job of the level of corruption that dominates FIFA, Oliver said this:
“I know, in America, soccer is something you pick your 10-year-old daughter up from. But for me, and EVERYONE ELSE ON EARTH, it is a little more important.”
Oliver was only slightly exaggerating. A majority of citizens from almost every other country on earth do care about futbol, and care about the World Cup. Even among countries that don’t have a team in the field, the country that represents their region becomes their team, and they watch.
ESPN said there were 11 million U.S. viewers of the U.S.-Ghana match. In Ghana, there were 2.4 million viewers. I’m here to tell you that Ghana’s total population is not one-fifth of the total population of the U.S.
On June 17, Brazil and Mexico played to a 0-0 tie. Got that, Americans? They played 90-plus minutes and nobody scored.
Eighty percent of Brazilians watched the match. Eleven million viewers of the BBC, England’s broadcast network, watched the match. That’s 39 percent of its possible audience, in a match that did not affect England’s chances of advancing in the tournament in any way.
More than half of all Germans watched the match. More than half of all Swedes watched.
What’s the point of all this? Americans can try to claim the rest of the world has nothing better to do with its time, but Americans who sponsor dozens of reality TV shows have no place to speak from.
What’s the real point? The real point is that Americans who do not care about the FIFA World Cup, including those who are rude about their lack of interest, are missing a really great party.
Except for my son. And his weirdly dressed ilk.