They call it the beautiful game for a reason.
I don’t play soccer but every four years during the FIFA World Cup, I develop a case of soccer fever.
And I am not alone. Footy, or football, as it is known everywhere but here in North America, is the most popular sport in the world. That’s not always obvious because on a professional basis it has been slow to take off in the US and Canada.
But that is changing. When it comes to participation, soccer is the number one sport in Canada. More than three million people of all ages, genders and backgrounds play the game in this country. And I predict those numbers will continue to grow and here’s why.
Soccer is played around the world because it can be played anywhere, on any surface. It doesn’t require expensive equipment, just a ball, and even that might be optional. The story is told that the great Brazilian player Pelé learned to play with a plastic bag stuffed with paper. However, as parents of soccer players know, that doesn’t stop kids from wanting expensive cleats and jerseys.
Soccer is also great exercise. I remember watching our son play when he was about five years old. It was pretty funny watching a gaggle of little boys and girls chasing the ball around the field. No strategy, only accidental goals, and you could only determine there were two teams by the colour of the t-shirts. But those kids were having fun and went to sleep happy and tired.
Soccer unites rather than divides. Canada doesn’t have a team in the Fifa World Cup this year, but there are 32 other countries, from Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire to Brazil and Britain. You can cheer for a country that is part of your ancestry, pick a player you like or just cheer for the underdogs. There’s so many ways to catch the enthusiasm.
Soccer levels the playing field between haves and have nots. For countries that don’t have much to cheer about these days, soccer gives them a chance to come together as a nation. In 2007, when the Fifa U-20 World Cup games were held in Victoria, the fans from Nigeria showed us all what soccer fever really looks like. It was impressive.
So as the World Cup heats us, catch the fever, cheer for a team or just grab the kids and head out to a field and kick a ball around.
Jo-Ann Roberts is an award-winning, veteran journalist who is host of CBC Radio’s All Points West, 90.5 fm.