Gotta Kick It Up

by Lindsay Keare | 6/26/14 8:38pm

Every four years, a strange phenomenon occurs in which the American public develops a sudden affinity for watching soccer. The results of a single soccer match have sparked city-wide riots in countries around the world​, and despite the significant portion of ’90s kids who have played youth soccer, the passion and appreciation for the sport has never quite caught on in the U.S. For one month every four years, however, millions of Americans act like they’ve been devoted fans of “the beautiful game” for their entire lives, only to forget about it again until the next World Cup.

As evidenced by the dozens of students crowding Collis Center televisions throughout the day or the live stream ESPN feeds on student laptops during Astronomy 1, the allure of the tournament has reached Dartmouth as well. Whether they come out to support their favorite countries, the hottest players, or the underdog, most students are more recreational viewers than serious followers of soccer.

One major motivation for following the Cup came from students who have strong ties to countries other than the U.S. “During the World Cup I feel social pressure to watch, because I’m from Brazil,” Victoria De Paula ’16 said.

Similarly, Felipe Jaramillo ’16 also said that his affiliation with another country influenced how he views the World Cup. Having lived in Colombia until he was 7, Jaramillo consequently cheers for the South American team, whose had an successful run in the tournament so far.

Dalia McGill ’16 said the international connection makes the viewing experience more enjoyable. Having spent more than 10 years living in Brazil, she’s supporting the country during the games.

“It’s not that I really care that much if they win or not, but it’s more exciting to watch a game when you’re really rooting for someone,” she said.

All three admit that the World Cup is the only time they regularly watch soccer.

Jaramillo has a background in soccer, and said he thinks this experience enables him to feel more invested in games where he doesn’t necessarily follow or know much about the teams playing.

“I don’t know the players but I know soccer well, and I think that’s the difference,” Jaramillo said.

To be fair, Dartmouth also has a number of students who consider themselves fans of soccer, with out without the World Cup. Whether their preference is the English Premier League, La Liga in Spain or Major League Soccer, the World Cup is not their only foray into the sport.

An avid soccer fan but recreational March Madness viewer, Greta Joung ’16 said she understands how those who know little about soccer can end up so invested in the World Cup.

“I love watching soccer all year round, but I am the person who pretends I know anything about basketball so I can’t be one to judge people that only care about soccer for this one month of the year,” she said.

Although the U.S.’s impressive performance has once again captivated the nation, there is still a question as to whether this passion will continue after closing ceremonies.

Joung said she appreciates how soccer, more than other sports, can unite the world, if only for a few weeks.

“Yes, we have March Madness, but that’s only really America, and then there’s the Euro Cup but we don’t really get involved,” Joung said.

Should the U.S. continue to advance and do well, even more fans may stick around to watch the MLS season and Americans in the European leagues.

Although Alec Tarantino ’16 said he believes it would be great if the U.S., a verifiable underdog among remaining teams, would win the Cup, there are a few he believes deserve it more.

“I think especially with the expectation for Brazil and all the South American teams, it would probably be best for one of [them] to win,” Tarantino said.

Results aside, the World Cup brings global issues to a forefront, as spectators try to reconcile the pastime with real issues that host countries face. In Brazil’s case, even winning could potentially have dramatic implications for the country, who the international media criticized extensively before the tournament, voicing concerns about whether they would be able successfully hold it.

These concerns became a primary aspect of the country-wide protests that took place in 2013, and a series of protests against the economic effects of the Cup have continued throughout Brazil. The political leaders of the country have come under fire during the controversy.

“I actually genuinely think the World Cup will determine whether or not [the current president, Dilma Rousseff] gets reelected,” De Paula said. “They kind of are blaming it on her - it’s on her shoulders if Brazil does well and wins and if the country does well after the World Cup is over.”

McGill echoed this sentiment, saying that the World Cup could affect how people view Rousseff. She pointed out, however, that the current president was not in office when Brazil was selected to host.

A win for Brazil won’t be a instant solution to the country’s troubled economy or ensure that all the stadiums built will somehow be put to good use once the Cup is over.

Regardless of if you watch the World Cup because of the inspirational display of athleticism or because you are physically attracted to every person on the screen, you can appreciate that the effects of this tournament extends far beyond the pitch.

Tarantino is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.