As television cameras panned the field during Sunday’s World Cup final at Vancouver’s BC Place, field-level billboards displayed advertising, most of it for FIFA, whose never sterling reputation has been besmirched by indictments for corruption.
Among the messages: “FIFA Say No to Racism” and “FIFA Football for Health.”
FIFA is trying to position soccer as the sport of the future, most specifically America’s future. The U.S. Women did more than their part by routing defending champion Japan 5-2 in the final.
Whether FIFA will do its part is always a question. It wants us to believe it’s not racist. Unlike NASCAR, we won’t see Confederate battle flags at its events.
But as much as embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter wants us to believe otherwise, his sport has a recent history of racism surpassing anything you’d likely find at NASCAR races. There have been incidents of large sections of European soccer fans shouting racial slurs and even some of the players engaging in such unseemly rhetoric.
FIFA also wants us to know that soccer is the safest form of football, though there are concussion concerns about kids bouncing a ball off their unprotected heads.
Soccer’s future as a major American sport remains clouded. Although our hearts get fluttery over the Olympics and World Cup, the rest of the time this country is far from being a soccer hotbed.
But you do have to wonder if the prospects changed with the overwhelming brilliance and success, not to mention graceful beauty, of Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and cohorts.
The game attracted 25 million televiewers – the most ever for a soccer game – even though it was essentially over after 16 minutes. USA went up 4-0 when Lloyd achieved the fastest hat trick ever in World Cup competition, male or female. The 32-year-old midfielder from New Jersey won the Golden Ball as tournament MVP. “We just wrote history,” she said, “and brought the World Cup trophy home.”
Indeed, this was Team USA’s third World Cup, a record. Seems difficult to believe American women play better soccer than the Germans, Brits and Brazilians, who have played the sport for so much longer. Credit Title IX in the 1970s that boosted women’s intercollegiate sports and led to a competitive advantage against other countries. The U.S. won the women’s World Cup inaugural in 1991 and again in ’99.
Just wondering: If our women are so good at soccer, why do they have a British-born coach?
Jill Ellis was criticized for her team’s lack of offense in the early rounds of the tournament. America advanced largely because of a magnificent defense led by Morgan and the steady goaltending of Solo, who won her second consecutive Gold Glove as the tournament’s best goalie, however much her personal reputation may be tainted by domestic violence. She had five consecutive shutouts entering the final.
Ellis changed her strategy midway through the tournament, moving Lloyd into an attacking role that befits a player who scored the winning goals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals.
Following Sunday night’s triumph – heartily cheered by our neighbors to the north, President Obama tweeted his congratulations and invited the team to the White House.
Conspicuously absent from the trophy ceremony, with the stars and stripes wrapped across shoulders of athletes hugging, kissing, smiling and crying (would there ever be such a dramatic celebration among male athletes?) was Blatter. He felt it prudent to stay out of North America, with the U.S. Justice Department investigating corruption in his empire. Blatter (a name only Dickens could have invented) has announced his resignation but hasn’t set the date.
Sunday night’s spectacle gave us a glimpse of what Americans can do with the Beautiful Game. Hopefully it won’t be so many years before the American men catch up to the women.