Good afternoon, world. The World Cup starts today. Let me tell you how serious this business is: I had intended to cancel my cable subscription a month or so ago, till a good friend reminded me about it. He stayed my hand, eager to claim time and money. Imagine: a cable cancellation delayed because of a sporting event.
But that’s not all that will be delayed. Here are some other notable items due to be placed on the back-burner: my next book; my syllabus preparation for the fall; many meals; the completed readings of items on my to-read list; my child’s cognitive and linguistic development (a distracted parent is never a good thing for an eighteen-month old.)
Over the next few weeks, I will root for and against imagined allies and enemies; I will set up alliances with perfect strangers; I will lean on all kinds of stereotypes to bolster my support and disdain for imagined and temporary friends and foes. I will dredge up–only half-facetiously–all manner of historical and political offense to justify my lack of support for some; I will construct–only half-facetiously–innumerable virtues to justify my support for others. I will be easy prey for marketers and makers of sappy YouTube videos; commercials will find plenty of purchase on my heart and soul. I will speak knowledgeably about distant lands; I will reveal too, ignorance aplenty.
The World Cup is the closest thing, I think, we have to a genuine global party. Many bars will be full; much work will be missed; sick days will multiply as a pandemic of imagined afflictions sweeps the land; grandmothers will keel over by the score. It will be possible, on many occasions, to walk into a room full of people whom you will not know from Adam, and find yourself indulging in backslapping bonhomie a few moments later (depending on whether the ball has found the back of the net or merely hit the crossbar.)
Never mind that the World Cup is run by a catastrophically inept and corrupt parent organization; sports fans are ruefully accustomed, by now, to the venality and incompetence of those who administer their beloved obsessions. Their seeming passivity and helplessness, their resigned acceptance, often lends credence to the claim that organized, professional sports is just the latest soporific used by the Man to keep the unruly masses slumbering away, oblivious to the loot and plunder taking place around them.
This year’s World Cup takes place in the shadow of the many protests in Brazil at its associated waste and misdirected expenditure; this resistance is serious business, and might yet cast a pall over the entire proceedings. But only in Brazil, I think. Elsewhere, the familiar charms of this mother of all sporting events will work their usual magic, transforming millions of men, women, and children into obsessives, ready to have their hearts broken or uplifted by the doings of twenty-men kicking around a leather ball on a large field.
Sport is easily scorned, but it’s not so easily ignored.