Benner/Sports and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: World Cup leaves this viewer less than engrossed

June 26, 2010

I’m trying. I am really trying.

That is why, a couple of Saturdays ago, when I could have been involved in some other leisure activity, I settled into my easy chair and, instead, watched the U.S. team take on England in its World Cup soccer opener.

As I said, I’m trying.

Yes, I know the World Cup is a huge deal, especially to, well, the world. The passion and frenzy with which its millions upon millions of devotees follow the competition leaves me wondering what they see that I—and many of my fellow Americans—obviously don’t.

Sure, we get geeked up about our teams here in the USA, but the “us versus them” we feel is more along the lines of Colts-Patriots than Americans-Brits.

True, in Olympic years, and at biannual events like the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup or Davis Cup, we are all about chants of “USA, USA, USA,” but the euphoria of success or the frustration of failure over the performances of American athletes doesn’t stay with us long.

In fact, I recall that when the United States won the women’s World Cup several years ago, the prevailing theory was that it was a seismic triumph that would dramatically elevate women’s soccer in this country.

Didn’t happen. We soon returned to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thus, it’s a fair question to ask that if Landon Donovan and his USA teammates somehow win this World Cup, would it have a long-lasting effect on the sport in this country? My guess is that the bump would be short-lived. Soccer, despite the strides it has made and the fact that it is virtually the entry-level athletic activity for our youth, remains a secondary sport at the high school, college and professional levels. For now, anyway.

So, for this World Cup, we still only kind-of, sort-of care.

By contrast, World Cup fans from other countries will be bitterly disappointed at best and absolutely devastated at worst by anything less than their countrymen’s winning it all. There is no better example than the reaction in France to the team mutiny that led to the Frenchies’ premature exit from the World Cup. No less than French President Nicolas Sarkozy became involved in the turmoil surrounding the team.

Somehow, I doubt if President Obama will weigh in on matters relating to Team USA.

Anyway, as I said, I’m trying. I watched every minute of the USA’s opening tie with the Brits, and agonized, a little bit, when the referee’s call disallowed what would have been the winning goal against Slovenia.

I wanted to shout, “You idiot … you blew it” at the official but then, I didn’t have the foggiest idea what had happened.

Soccer has its nuances and subtleties, but I’m lost to understand its intricacies. It is called “the beautiful game,” yet I am not a beholder.

Still, I don’t feel threatened if it succeeds. Anything that fosters physical fitness in this country is something we should root for, and there is no question soccer resonates strongly among our youth. That’s a good thing.

Then there is that possibility that, in 2018 or 2022, Indianapolis could well welcome the World Cup to the banks of the White River. Indianapolis has made two cuts so far to be included among the 18 finalist U.S. cities that will be part of the bid. Ultimately, if the United States is selected to host the World Cup in either ’18 or ’22, Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium would be the venue) could be among the 12 American cities to host some rounds of the competition.

Especially if they leave those annoying plastic horns (vuvuzelas) at home, visitors coming here for the World Cup would give the city an enormous international boost. My friend Dave Guthrie, executive director of Indiana Youth Soccer, believes it would be a transformational event that would even surpass the Super Bowl with its lasting impact.

So I’m trying, really trying, to embrace the World Cup. Not to the point of setting the DVR to record Puerto Rico versus South Korea (a 7-0 blowout for the Puerto Ricans, by the way) but I am determined to follow our Yanks as well as the overall tournament to their/its conclusion.

And then I, and most Americans, will return to our regularly scheduled programming. If futbol season is over, can football be far behind?•

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Benner is director of communications at the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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