Kick nasty attitude to soccer

Who would have thought the beautiful game would be the cause of so much handwringing in some quarters of the American population?

For those of us rejoicing that the United States is finally getting behind a sport that not only it can enjoy, there are others who see it as nothing less than a threat to what it means to be American.

Maybe it's just hard to accept being average when you're used to world dominance, but some pundits seem to be taking World Cup fever quite personally.

For instance, conservative commentator aka is-she-for-real Ann Coulter says the growing popularity of soccer is a sign of the country's moral decay, an ominous harbinger of liberals gaining ground with their loose immigration policies.

She ranted, somewhat cynically, in a recent column: "I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time."

Oh my.

Or what about the Reuters columnist, Jack Shafer, who unfriended a quarter of his Twitter follow list because they tweeted or retweeted posts about the World Cup?

Well, these curmudgeonly types can go... lick their wounds, though I do have some sympathy for clear-eyed individuals who see sporting fandom for the organised crack that it is.

Even in football-obsessed countries, there will be plenty of people who are irritated by the intense interest generated only by the World Cup.

But to see it as a sign that your country has lost the culture wars? That just means you need to get a life.

I, for one, am not complaining that my adopted home has succumbed to the quadrennial epidemic. It's one of the reasons we - sorry, mum and dad - decided not to make the trek back to Singapore this year.

I did not relish the thought of being sleep-deprived with the rest of South-east Asia for a month, when I could watch all the games from the comfort of my own couch during civilised daytime hours.

Or I could mosey on down to a pub or pizzeria where I would be assured of an appreciative crowd to watch the matches with.

Contrary to popular opinion, lots of people here like to watch the World Cup and also think that American goalie Tim Howard should at least have an airport named after him.

It's not that surprising.

Soccer, as they call it, is a very popular recreational sport played at all different levels of competition from kindergarten to college.

When we watched the demolition of Brazil by Germany on Tuesday during our annual family vacation at the beach, the two members who understood the game best were arguably my teenage niece and nephew, neither of whom are "fans', but both of whom had played in their soccer leagues for six or seven years.

Of course, all that activity does not translate to the domestic professional league, which garners little national attention. But come time for the World Cup and the country will rally behind its team, like everyone else.

And if sporting teams are ambassadors for their countries, then surely the USMNT can hold their heads up high, even if they didn't make it past the round of 16.

Anyway, intrigued by the anti-soccer rhetoric that tends to emerge around the World Cup, a couple of sociologists in Nebraska decided to dig deeper into the reasons for it.

Their poll, which was published in the Sociological Quarterly in January 2012, found that the best predictor of soccer sentiment were attitudes towards cultural globalisation. That is, people with more liberal views were more likely to approve of soccer, whereas those who disapproved of soccer were more likely to be conservative.

On the whole, however, the poll confirmed that most Americans have a moderate view of soccer. That is, they are happy to have their kids play it, even if they're not really all that into it themselves.

And the majority, obviously, don't believe it's un-American. After all, it's just a sport.

Indeed, as the histrionic headlines unfolded over the unmitigated disaster that was Brazil's semi-final, my overriding hope was - unless they made their living playing football - that ordinary citizens would go to bed and awake the next morning having got over that defeat.

It's not always beautiful, and it's not always fair, but football really is just a game.

sharonl@sph.com.sg