If I ever end up writing a book, I think that the following question I am going to ask will be a major part of it, if not the only part of it. The question is Why do certain parts of the world, particularly countries become fanatic about a given sport? In the next few paragraphs, I am going to try to briefly cover the outline of what I might argue in the few hypotheses I have formed in mulling over the world sporting scene today.
Firstly, soccer. While it is the most popular sport in the world, there are definitely certain parts of the world in which it is more popular that many others. So for purposes of my arguments about the sport, I will say Western Europe, Latin America and Western Africa are the areas in which the sport is most popular, especially right now. No doubt it has gained steam in other regions, but those regions are big fans of other sports, too.
The origins of soccer were in England, but England being part of Europe, and due to its quick spread in Europe, the reasons for its thriving in these regions are probably pretty similar.
My first guess about soccer is that it is a constant battle for space- space to dribble the ball, space to get open, and space you want to take away if you are on defense. The European mindset also seems to be a constant battle for space. The Germans have constantly been fighting for it, the Ancient Romans tried to take as much of it over as possible. And yet now Europe is finding they don’t have enough of it.
The next thought I had is that with the dimensions of a soccer field being the same everywhere, it would give Europeans a sense of boundaries, which is something they also like. This nationality belongs here, this religion belongs here, this sport belongs here. Thus, a field that defines exactly what takes place on it, and what does not
Finally, soccer being such a simple game at heart, it gives a lot of room for creativity. Europe being a place that emphasizes the individual, or tightly defined region, these individuals and regions could maintain their identities and express them in this sport while still being able to relate to each other on the same stage.
So why did it expand to certain places? I believe Franz Fanon could explain in some way better than I could why certain sports thrived in colonized countries, but I’m going to try. The colonizers introduced a sport to the colonized which they imitated because at first they looked up to their oppressors. But eventually they decided to become better than their colonizers (and certainly in many cases, did). This is kind of like the way Fanon explains the violence dialectic between colonizer and colonized.
But to apply this to actual places, it seems clear that this was most effective in Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries. They also seem to the be the ones influenced the most by the Iberian peninsula. The Iberians, the Catholics who conquered the world the most, probably instilled in their colonies the greatest sense of tradition and loyalty of any Empires in the world. And so, while these newly independent nations took the spread of soccer and tried to make it their own, they also could not ignore the fact that they were again taking a page out of their former rulers’ book.
Pretty much the same could be argued for the people of west Africa, despite the fact that it was mostly the French and the British who settled that area. Well, mostly the French. Was it French Catholicism and loyalty that made these countries love soccer so much? I mean, I don’t really know what the competition from other sports was, but soccer seems pretty big there now.
Next time, we examine what the rest of the world likes. Hint: it might also be soccer.