Worldcup 2014: Reflexions on the beautiful game of football
By Sergio Martinez
Well, the curtain is about to fall so this weekend we should learn who will be the monarch of world soccer during the following four years. At the time when I’m writing this piece the results of the semifinal games are partially known (Brazil is out and Germany is one of the finalists), but that really doesn’t matter much for what I want to say. In any case—without being a great connoisseur—I may say that the four finalists have indeed demonstrated on the field that they are the best, despite disastrous performances like the one exhibited by Brazil against Germany.
I emphasize this notion of “on the field” because that is what to a great extent defines the sport of soccer (called “football” in practically all the rest of the world, except in Canada and the U.S. where that name is given to a sport in which—paradoxically—the ball is most of time held in the players’ hands…) . This idea that what is important is what happens on the field is what in turn gives soccer the moniker of “beautiful game” meaning that a game may well end in a rather paltry result of 1-0 or even a nil-nil score and yet make the spectators quite happy because they may have seen a game full of great action in which players have displayed the best of their abilities. Years ago during a previous World Cup I wrote about this in a Spanish-language newpaper trying to explain that perhaps this aspect of the game is something that escapes the taste of North Americans. In fact the North American society seems to be a goal-oriented one, final results being the important thing, and therefore what happens to reach those goals or how they are obtained is secondary and in the end mostly forgotten. By contrast, in soccer even though scoring is always important too, performing well on the field is vital (by the way, at that time my idea was used by a columnist who could read Spanish and then presented it as his own. Well, stealing other people’s ideas is one of those things that happen—I guess—even among some well-known writers of humouristic columns).
One interesting new development in Canada, and in particular in our city, is this growing interest in the “beautiful game”: people congregated in bars and cafés to watch the games on TV, always a remarkable occurrence because it takes us back to a kind of communal experience that in fact only important hockey or football games produce in our city. One has to remember that until recently soccer was seen basically as a more ethnic kind of sport: immigrants from the Old World, the Middle East or Latin America made the majority of the soccer fans, a situation that has now changed with more and more Canadians from all backgrounds enjoying the game. And of course taking sides as well: the CBC narrators for instance didn’t hide the preference they felt for European teams (very evident I remember at the time of the game between Ecuador and Switzerland, won by a lucky although mediocre Swiss team).
Thinking now in terms of a vision for the future of the sport in this country, it would be interesting that Canada’s soccer authorities decide to put more resources and take the development of the sport more seriously. Perhaps they should think of giving Canada a competitive team for the next World Cup, something that hasn’t happened since 1986. In fact this country doesn’t have a proper national soccer league: the Montreal Impact and teams from other Canadian cities are just appendixes to an American-based soccer league, that doesn’t allow for the development of local talents nor for the creation of a Canadian soccer identity (except for football where there is a Canadian league, the participation of Canadian teams in a foreign league is something quite puzzling since it is an invitation to perpetual failure: American teams having more money to get the best players are always the winners. When was the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup?) Let’s hope then that this soccer fever creates something more than a temporary enthusiasm, and maybe for next FIFA World Cup in Russia, Montrealers will be also able to cheer for a Canadian team.