By Kerry Tinga
I am not a huge fan of any sport in particular. I played golf when I was younger and watched some golf tournaments on TV with my father. Whenever the Olympics were on I would watch that as well. If a television at the airport or at a restaurant is showing a game or a match of some sport I will watch for a few moments with some interest, then end up half watching it and half doing something else on my phone just to pass the time. If there is a huge tournament, like the Super Bowl, I get into the hype a bit just because it fills up my Facebook feed and is all over newspapers.
Growing up in the Philippines, I knew bits of facts about basketball, at least what I would overhear my brother and father and uncles and friends (and everybody around me, it is the Philippines) discussing things about the NBA or PBA or college games. It is because of that upbringing I am much more used to hearing the term “dribbling” referring to a motion executed with a player’s hands rather than a player’s feet. It is also because of that upbringing I refer to the World Cup as the ultimate “soccer” tournament, which is met by mocking scorn by most who immediately correct me by saying “football .” Over 6,000 miles away from the basketball courts of Manila, however, I am swept up in the World Cup fever that has taken over England.
The world’s most “famous” sport, in terms of fan base around the world, is probably association football. Its popularity spans most regions and continents, from South America to Europe to Asia, the Philippines being an anomaly because of the American influence in our history that means we are more often consumed by basketball. The 2014 FIFA World Cup hosted in Brazil reached a global audience of an estimated 3.2 billion people, and I remember in the Philippines many of my friends seemed to be part of that audience. The one before that in 2010, hosted in South Africa, was big because of Shakira’s song and vuvuzelas and of course because of the game itself.
There are large screens set up in public areas around London with chairs in front for a passersby to sit back and watch, while others just set up their own chairs or otherwise sit on the ground. There is a community brought together either by love of their nation, England, or love of the sport. I passed by the loud pubs filled with cheers for the Three Lions (the nickname for the English national team that I just learned a couple of days ago), people listening on the radio (how very old fashioned), and tried to figure out where I fit amid all of this, being a foreigner in a foreign land. The only thing I could contribute to a conversation, watching England’s first match this year against Tunisia last Monday, was mentioning David Beckham who apparently does not even play anymore. I did not know that, my fascination with the Beckham’s lying more with his wife, Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham.
Watching with friends who not only follow FIFA, but the Premier League as well, I am hearing names of players and statistics and all these numbers that go in one ear and go out the other. It was a bit intimidating to start watching a sport that I had close to zero knowledge about, feeling awkward that I had to ask numerous questions about the exact mechanics of the game. Yet, half an hour in, I started understanding the appeal, or was at least in awe of the skill involved. As Pablo Mastroeni, former coach of the Colorado Rapids, once said, “Stats will lose to the human spirit every day of the week.” That is why we always seemed to be attracted to rooting for the underdog. So I did not know how many matches a team had won in the past, or what each player’s position was, or the like, but it was still interesting and even fun to get sucked into the hype.
In school we were always told that taking up a sport would help us develop teamwork skills, working with other people, finding a group with whom we would have mutual interests and to whom we would belong. The same could be said for becoming a fan of a sports team or, even for me, just casually watching a game. To be in a positive atmosphere with people brought together by a sport and by each other. It is not just about the sport, the statistics, and the facts, but the experience itself, eating chips and other junk food and watching with friends who yell at the screen or mutter under their breath, giving their own commentary that they believe is better than the one given by the BBC. Each year I get swept up in the hype as something for people to come together for, whether they are die hard fans or casual observers.