Islamist militants in Mogadishu last weekend killed two people and arrested 10 others for watching World Cup soccer, which is banned in Somalia. Islamist leader Sheik Abu Yahya Al-Iraqi said that soccer “descended from the old Christian cultures, and our Islamic administration will never allow” watching the World Cup.
At least the terrorists can’t blame the United States. When the World Cup tournament rolls around (whenever that is), America’s cultural critics roll out their standard critiques decrying the lack of soccer mania in this country. Soccer is international, they say; it is the world’s game. The United States is backward and exclusionary for not loving it. Soccer will be the next big sport in America, they predict; just wait. And it’s not really soccer anyway, they sniff; we should call it by its real name, football.
The “soccer vs. football” argument is a century-long gripe. “Soccer” originated in England as Oxbridge slang, a contraction of the formal term “association football.” In 1905, an indignant New York Times reader complained when the paper used the “undignified” term soccer when reporting a game. “It is to be hoped that this heresy will not spread,” he wrote. But the word soccer was necessary to distinguish this foreign import from the already established American game of football. Arguing that we should stop saying soccer is like saying Americans should stop saying gasoline instead of petrol, or have a parliament, or adopt the metric system - changes that would be pointless, burdensome and culturally cowardly.
It’s not just Americans who have a fondness for their native games; Canadian football, Australian Rules football and Gaelic football are all called “football” in their countries of origin. Football in America is thus part of a long tradition in countries that used to be part of the British Empire. Since when did the left start opposing anti-colonialism?
America’s lack of enthusiasm for soccer is also chalked up to racism, according to some U.S. bashers. But contrary to hooligan sniping, there is more of an ethnic mix on the average U.S. football team than almost any comparable soccer team. Silly leftist critics who think that “white opposition” to soccer is because it is played by “brown people” need to watch more professional sports on ESPN instead of Univision.
Soccer has been “the next big sport” for a long time. “Soccer Gaining Ground” one headline proclaimed, over a news report claiming that the sport was “getting a tighter grip on America.” This prediction came in 1907. Whenever American soccer teams do something extraordinary - such as defeating England 1-0 in 1950, the so-called “Miracle on the Grass” - there is a flurry of predictions that soccer’s time has come. Some say the influx of immigrants from Latin America points to soccer’s demographic inevitability. Maybe so.
Tastes change with the times, and Americans are free to choose the sports they play and watch. What really upsets our critics is that the most popular sports in America - football, baseball and basketball - originated here in the Land of the Free. They are 19th-century inventions that have become part of the bedrock of American culture. The only way the World Cup match got more U.S. viewers than the World Series in 1994 was because the baseball series was canceled.
Soccer may find a market niche in this country, but it’s unlikely to be as popular as it is in countries that lack American sports. And if people in this country do want to watch the World Cup for some reason, at least Islamist radicals will not gun them down for it.