- - Tuesday, July 1, 2014


One of the biggest success stories at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil has been the U.S. men’s national soccer team, despite its cliffhanger 2-1 overtime loss to Belgium Tuesday.

The 13th-ranked Americans advanced in Group G after beating Ghana, tying Portugal and losing a 1-0 contest to No. 2-ranked Germany. Captained by Clint Dempsey and coached by former German soccer star Jurgen Klinsmann, the team has scored impressive results that have led many Americans to experience the soccer bug for the first time.

Alas, a can of bug repellant was unnecessarily sprayed by syndicated columnist Ann Coulter before the United States met Belgium on Tuesday in a Round of 16 match.

Miss Coulter wrote last week, “I’ve held off on writing about soccer for a decade — or about the length of the average soccer game — so as not to offend anyone. But enough is enough. Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.”

What is it about soccer that bothers her so much? A garden variety of personal reasons, including: lack of individual achievement (“the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child’s fragile self-esteem is bruised”); the sport’s co-ed nature (“Liberal moms like soccer because it’s a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys”); no hands allowed (“What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs”); and it’s not as popular as we think (“If more ‘Americans’ are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer.”)

She also thinks soccer is “foreign” and it’s “like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it’s European.”

Actually, although it has European roots, it has long been an international sport. The United States even made it to the 1930 World Cup semifinals, for example.

Why should we let such important facts get in the way of a perfectly good rant, right?

All kidding aside, I don’t have any issue with Miss Coulter’s personal distaste for soccer. She has the freedom to watch, or not watch, any sport she chooses. However, she’s completely wrong in her assessment about the beautiful game.

Many conservatives enjoy soccer, including me. I’ve been a huge fan of Liverpool F.C. since I was a young child. Besides the English Premier League, I follow soccer in Italy, Germany, Scotland, Spain and Brazil, among other countries. Major tournaments such as the World Cup and Euro Cup always attract my attention, too.

What is it that I love about the game? Things that most conservatives should also love.

For one thing, it’s a fierce battle on the field between two opposing teams. There is a huge amount of strategy and analysis involved in getting the right players on the soccer pitch — and the best substitutes during the match. There has to be proper adherence to the rules, or the player will receive a caution with a yellow card (or dismissal with a red card).

Capitalism and globalization are also two major components to soccer’s immense success.

There’s potentially an enormous amount of money to be made in this sport. Radio and TV deals are incredibly profitable. Ticket and merchandise sales are enormous. Overall revenues per team can, therefore, sometimes reach the financial stratosphere. That’s why U.S. investors such as the Glazer family of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Stan Kroenke of the St. Louis Rams, and John Henry of the Boston Red Sox are involved with Manchester United, Arsenal F.C. and Liverpool, respectively.

Forbes’ annual list of the World’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams also includes many soccer teams. In 2013, Spain’s Real Madrid ($3.3 billion), Manchester United ($3.2 billion) and Spain’s FC Barcelona ($2.6 billion) held the first three spots. Arsenal ($1.33 billion) was in 10th place for good measure.

Meanwhile, soccer’s global appeal has enabled poor countries to properly participate in this profitable sport. South American and Latin American teams have been able to train great young players, for example, which gives them the ability to showcase their talents and play for world-class teams.

To put it another way, soccer provides a hand up, and not a handout, to nations on an international scale.

America’s new enthusiasm with soccer, therefore, has nothing to do with “moral decay,” as Miss Coulter puts it. Rather, it has brought this exciting game and its panache for free-market economics to the one major country that has been unwilling to accept it for so long.

Rather than ridicule, that’s something all conservatives should applaud.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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