The level of soccer expertise is rising all over this huge country. In the past two days, while plugging my new soccer book – Eight World Cups -- I have done over 20 phone interviews with broadcasters from coast to coast – Richmond to Tulsa, Seattle to Orlando.
The level of knowledge and experience was high. Gone are the days of raising the hoary sportswriter cliché that Americans will never go for a sport in which players don’t use their hands. It’s a new generation, thanks to cable and the web, plus MLS and our men’s and women’s teams, and the great leagues of Europe.
Plus, we are acknowledging our own soccer heritage, now going back generations. For your enjoyment, here is a link to a lovely article by R.J. Young, an e-mail buddy of mine, in This Land Magazine, about Charlie Mitchell, the first player signed by the Tulsa Roughnecks of the NASL, and later the coach of the Tulsa team that beat the Cosmos in 1983 and then won the next-to-last title in that doomed league.
In recent days, broadcasters around the country told me about matches they have seen. I was too busy babbling to take notes and names, but one recalled his first match (scoreless, Swindon Town at Sunderland) and another recalled getting hooked on a match at West Ham. Another compared notes with me about the Honduras-USA match in Soldiers Field in Chicago in 2009 – how the crowd was easily half Honduran (or maybe that was just the decibel count.)
Everybody wanted to talk about Jürgen Klinsmann’s omission of Landon Donovan from the USA squad. (Most think Klinsi is flat wrong.)
And just about everybody wanted to know about the “dark side” of my subtitle – FIFA’s greasy stewardship, the messy awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and whether the tournament would be moved to, oh, say, the USA. (No way, I said, read my book as to why.)
It’s a new age. Americans have absorbed soccer. At the very least, America is preparing for its giant quadrennial party. And as soccer keeps growing, many commentators will keep people informed
(URGENT AS OF FRIDAY PM: The Steve Kornacki show had to cancel for Saturday because hard news raised its head. We hope to reschedule.
On Saturday I am taping an interview with Al-Jazeera. More information to come.
However, while in Boston I had a great interview with Bill Littlefield of Only a Game on WBUR. I am told it will air sometime Saturday, at different times on NPR. Please consult local listings.)
And on Monday, I am taping an appearance with John Schaefer of WNYC, the host of the stimulating New Sounds show. What do I have to do with music? Good question.
Please consult the Appearances box, to the left, for other appearances.)
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.