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Sports At Large: Do Americans Care About FIFA?

FIFA World Cup 2006: Germany vs. Italy
Crystian Cruz via flckr
FIFA World Cup 2006: Germany vs. Italy
FIFA World Cup 2006: Germany vs. Italy
Credit Crystian Cruz via flckr
FIFA World Cup 2006: Germany vs. Italy

Know how you hear about the launch of a new product or the opening of a big summer blockbuster movie…and your reaction is a big yawn. 

That’s largely the feeling from this corner over last week’s news that executives of soccer’s international governing body were arrested on corruption charges.

I guess I’m supposed to be upset or at least concerned that 14 FIFA officials were indicted on charges of bribery, money-laundering and racketeering involving tens of millions of dollars over the past two decades.

And I ought to be perturbed or distressed that FIFA President Sepp Blatter was re-elected in the midst of this unholy mess. But, try as I might, I just can’t work up the requisite consternation. And I can’t even muster the energy to wag a finger at the situation.

For one thing, soccer just isn’t my sport. I appreciate the supreme athleticism it takes to play the game. I also appreciate the notion that, like chess, soccer is a thinking man’s sport. Like a lot of Americans my age, I’ve heard for decades that soccer, or football, as the rest of the world knows it, is the coming thing. And, while it’s certainly made inroads into the nation’s consciousness, for me, and a lot of people I know, soccer is a new flavor at Baskin-Robbins, when all I really want is a scoop or two of vanilla.

And I suspect that a lot of American indifference over soccer is the fact that we really aren’t great at it, or at least our men aren’t.

The U.S. team advanced to the semifinals of the very first World Cup in 1930, and has only reached the quarterfinals once since, in 2002. The American effort has reached the round of 16 in each of the last two Cups, but no further. The women’s team, meanwhile, has had more success, winning the inaugural World Cup in 1991, and repeating eight years later in the famous penalty kick win over China where BrandiChastainwhipped off her shirt revealing her sports bra and a six pack.

In the 16 years since, the American women have reached the semifinals twice and the championship match four years ago, losing to Japan in penalty kicks, though they have won three straight Olympic gold medals.

This year’s Cup competition will open next month in Canada, and the U.S. women appear to have a chance to reclaim glory. But how would such a win play in light of the mess that has been uncovered in the FIFA scandal?

Corruption and wrongdoing have been alleged throughout FIFA for years. Many believe that favors have been bought and sold in the organization for decades. Even the very decisions on where to play the World Cup have reportedly been up for bids. Yet,Blatterclaims ignorance about what has been happening supposedly under his nose. How do you take that and his re-election seriously?

Prince William, who is second in line to the British throne, has urged Blatter and other FIFA leaders to show that they can "represent the interests of fair play and put the sport first."

How much will you care if they do? And more importantly, will you care if they don’t?

Copyright 2015 WYPR - 88.1 FM Baltimore

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.
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