Monday, August 25, 2008

An International Shame

I'm sure that baseball fans have heard that Olympic baseball is, with the completion of the Beijing Games, not again to return for the foreseeable future. This is a huge misstep, in my opinion, especially in the context of an Olympic Games which continues to include soccer, one of the dullest and most pointless team competitions in the world of sport.

In the US, soccer (which is known in countries such as Britain and the United Kingdom by the misnomer "football," and sometimes abbreviated to the less formal "footsie") is mostly considered a juvenile pursuit: it's what young children play before they are old enough to participate in regular sports such as baseball and (actual) football.

But to the uninitiated observer, the gameplay, which consists largely of grown men in collared shirts running around after a small white ball, more closely resembles an activity with which one might entertain a beloved family pet. (One does hope that soccer coaches at the international level are at least capable of generating encouragements for their players that rise above commands to "fetch," but who knows.)

At the Olympic level, soccer's major event is known as the World Cup, a sad overstatement for a game whose popularity doesn't extend far beyond the Irish foothills and a handful of third-world backwaters. The sport joins a long list of topics (including breakfast cereal, the works of Shakespeare, and Episcopalianism) afforded attention far exceeding that which they are due, by dint of their origins in the late British Empire and Her colonies. This competition has generated no major stars of more than regional acclaim, and certainly no international idols on the level of a George Foreman or a Muhammad Ali.

The Olympic Soccer World Cup is for all intensive purposes a meaningless bit of pageantry, a bone thrown to also-ran nations with an attitude that would be considered insulting condescension were it directed at a state with half a teaspoonful of self-respect. That the Olympics have continued to support this parody of decent sport, while jettisoning the intricate and beguiling subtleties that infuse the international game of baseball, only underscores the Olympic Games' continuing descent into irrelevance.

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