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Is World Cup soccer socialist?

No, and Americans -- especially conservatives -- should embrace soccer as a democratic and meritocratic game.

By Daniel Allott / July 10, 2010


A loud roar erupted outside my apartment window. Across the city, jubilant fans poured into the streets to celebrate the victory. It was spring 2002, and I was studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain, a university town west of Madrid.

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Soccer powerhouse Real Madrid had just beaten Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen to win Europe’s Champions League Cup. Real’s triumph was secured by a brilliant second-half Zinedine Zidane goal, a miraculous volleying left-footed bullet from the edge of the penalty area.

As an American, my devotion to Real was only as deep as my four months in Spain could engender. But it was easy to get caught up in the revelry.

For decades, Americans have been hearing about soccer’s imminent arrival as a top-tier spectator sport. But Brazilian star Pelé in the early 1980s and Britain’s David Beckham more recently failed to catapult soccer into the mainstream.

And despite drawing TV ratings in America 50 percent higher than in 2006, this year’s World Cup won’t prompt as many Americans to suddenly embrace the game with anything like the passion of my Spanish neighbors in 2002.

But, like it or loathe it, soccer’s eventual rise may be inevitable.

Consider this: America’s loudest complaint about soccer is that there’s not enough scoring. The World Cup’s first round produced an average of just over two goals a game. The scarcity of goals makes draws common (nearly a third of first-round games ended in tie scores).

Not that the alternative – the penalty shootout – is much better. In a penalty shootout, each team selects five players to alternately attempt to kick the ball past the goalie at pointblank range. It is soccer’s equivalent to deciding the NBA finals with a free-throw shooting contest or settling the Super Bowl by holding a field-goal kicking contest.

At a deeper level, many Americans – especially conservatives – resent having soccer foisted upon them. Glenn Beck rants, “We don’t want the Word Cup, we don’t like the World Cup, we don’t like soccer, we want nothing to do with it.” The late Jack Kemp even opposed a congressional resolution supporting US efforts to host the 1994 World Cup, stating, “a distinction should be made that football is democratic, capitalism, whereas soccer is a European socialist [sport].”

But soccer has plenty to offer Americans of all political stripes. For one, when you take in a soccer match, though goals may be scarce, you’ll be watching 90 minutes of almost nonstop action (not commercials!).