For the World Cup winner–Germany–the Empire State Building was lit up in red, old gold, and black, the colors of the national flag of unified Germany, which also happen to be the colors of the Protestant Reformation. It would be interesting to see the World Cup in religious terms, with Reformation countries on one side–Germany, the Nederlands (orange), and England–and Catholic countries on the other–Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Latin America. It would be like analyzing the history of Western Europe and colonization over the past five hundred years, not to mention Islamic countries and even Buddhist ones (does Nepal have a soccer team?). Monty Python did something like that with a soccer game between philosophers.
So, the Empire State Building was lit up in neon colors, as it has been for Gay Pride, the Fourth, and even Mother Theresa. If you listen to the marketing hype and hyperbole about the World Cup, this would seem like a natural and even sophisticated thing to do. After all, isn’t “football” the dominant sport of the globe, and isn’t America now a global society that transcends national boundaries?
Maybe, maybe not. Soccer is played around the world but not by everyone and certainly not to the degree that it is in Latin America and most of Europe. Where, for instance, were China, India, Scandinavia, Indonesia, the Caribbean? Millions, even billions, of people either do not play soccer or have no interest in playing.
I think that most of the argument for insisting that soccer is the global sport has two aims: (1) to further the concept of a global village with all of the attendant political and ideological implications, and (2) to deepen our own sense of shame–I’ll use that word–over our self-image as being Number One. Aren’t we reminded constantly how we are not first in so many areas, from education to health? What I find interesting is that Americans are the ones who most often point that out, jumping on the self-hatred bandwagon. Even the Dalai Llama has been puzzled over Western “self-loathing.”
And then there’s “football.” We don’t call soccer football. We have football. We have baseball. We have basketball. If we want to call soccer “soccer,” then we have every right to do so, just as much as the Italians, who play “calcio,” not football. Then there is the issue of the breadth of soccer versus a sport like baseball. I have heard the joke more than once that the USA had its World Series and that America won again. But the facts are otherwise. With the exception of soccer, baseball is probably the most international of sports, played in North America, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and even parts of Europe. But what makes it truly competitive with soccer is that its players come from everywhere, including Japan, Korea, Italy, Australia, Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, etc. It is not a parochial game played by the dominant culture without regard for the rest of the world, not by a long shot.
The Empire State Building is now being used for cultural events in ways that assuredly never would have occurred to its designers. That is not a bad thing at all, but perhaps we ought to let the Germans do it. The Berlin TV tower would be a great place.