Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Culture: World Cup Lessons?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - As the excitement builds toward the FIFA World Cup which begins in South Africa on Friday, the contrast with a certain sports event that took place earlier in the year in Vancouver, British Columbia which I am not allowed to mention by name is rather profound. I think those games of ancient origin need to take a few lessons from the World Cup.

First of all, despite the World Cup going on, I'm not anticipating any serious disruptions in my media habits. Sure, live broadcasts of the certain matches will air on certain radio and television networks preempting normal programming at times, but no network is disappearing from the Internet because of rights issues. My favorite news program is not going to disappear off my podcast feed or local public radio station because it might contain sports content, even when it doesn't.

I haven't heard any complaints about elitist ticket prices and procedures either. Sure, it helps when the games are played in stadiums seating tens of thousands of people, but I know a handful of people that traveled to the last World Cup in Germany and just moved about the country to attend games and never had any trouble getting in to a stadium until the quarter-finals--and frankly, the group matches are said to be more fun to watch anyway.

The World Cup really seems to be what that other thing is supposed to be--embracing the common fan, making the games accessible on a variety of levels, exploiting national pride to bring the world together, fostering ties amongst rivals from around the world, and hence bringing the human race a little closer together.

It's not like the World Cup isn't commercial. There are official sponsors, and plenty of promotion. The cup itself didn't just tour the world with K'naan singing "Wavin' Flag" for nothing. But, the World Cup doesn't pretend to be more important than everything else in each of those countries, and it doesn't go to extreme lengths to protect its brand. Frankly, it doesn't need to--people get excited enough about the tournament on its own merits. I suspect the other quadrennial event would find the same thing to be true.

Of course, maybe I just have a Toronto bias in my opinion. Being a city where people from all the participating nations openly display their flags throughout the tournament and enjoy the games together without serious conflict, maybe Toronto is just an unusually World Cup kind of place. After all, where else but Toronto would one find a person of joint Mexican-South African descent who would compose a song about the first match of the tournament between Mexico and South Africa? Indeed, Amanda Martinez is traveling to South African with her family (from each country) to perform the song.

Still, even if my perspective is a bit warped, I think a certain international committee has some lessons to learn from this single-sport event.

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