Friday, June 03, 2005

MORE RANTS ABOUT SPORTS: WORLD CUP QUALIFYING GOING ON

The reason I like to talk about sports on this blog is because I get fed up with the political scene in Ottawa. I'm so frustrated that I have to switch topics. I've had enough of the coverage of Gurmant Grewal and those tapes. The situation smells too much like Watergate.

Unbelieveable, but I totally forgot to talk about Rudy Giuliani and that goofy plan to start up a rival league to the NHL with the backing of the Player's Association and even the World Hockey Association; something called the International Hockey Association.

It will never see the light of day.

I think it's a bad idea to try and come up with a replacement to the National Hockey League, because I think it just breeds instability in a sport and wrecks fan interest, generally. You can see from all the problems the sport of soccer has had in North America what I think of such an idea. Soccer hasn't recovered from the collapse of the North American Soccer League, which died, I gather, due in large part to wild spending and expansion into non-soccer markets that didn't take to the game. Sort of like what the National Hockey League was doing. But the NASL never did solve any of its problems and died a horrible, bloody death.

Since then they started up a replacement league, Major League Soccer, a league that is well managed and very stable. But none of the old NASL franchises from the glory days- the Cosmos, the Sting, the Sockers, the Whitecaps- are a part of this group. Instead it's the MetroStars, DC United, the Chicago Fire, and the LA Galaxy, among others. And it's just not the same and all the old fans who followed the old NASL all are disenfranchised because their old teams are all gone. The only old NASL franchise to be a part of MLS is the San Jose Earthquakes. That's basically it.

Anyway I don't want to see the NHL go the way of the NASL, that would consign a lot of historic teams to the dustbin of history and there's no way I would endorse that.

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I've sort of adopted soccer as a replacement to the NHL these days, largely because the fans of the sport are so crazy and you can't help but get caught up in the enthusiasm. Plus I like to see how other parts of the world get excited about the game. I tune into a lot of TV feeds from all over the world and notice how crazy the fans get about the game of soccer in these Latin American countries. They will follow soccer from England, Italy, Germany, Spain, everywhere it's played. I've watched TV coverage of the sport from Mexico on the Internet, and they treat soccer like it's Hockey Night in Canada. Or the NFL Today. You see what I mean. Citytv has the RAI soccer show on Sunday mornings and I tune in to that to check out the scores and highlights from Italy.

Officially the soccer season is over- the regular season, anyway. The Scottish Cup was awarded last week and that was the end of the big cup matches. But the soccer season never really ends. Tomorrow, a bunch of World Cup qualifying matches are scheduled for around the world, and later that night Major League Soccer will be playing a bunch of games. I like to tune into some of the streaming audio feeds from some of these MLS cities- MLS really doesn't get the coverage it deserves. But thanks to MLS there is soccer to follow basically all year, so the die-hards in Europe who can't live without soccer will be able to tune in. (Just as there's football to follow all year with the NFL Europe League playing mostly throughout Germany.)

Another reason I tune into MLS is because it's a soccer league in a non-soccer country. Let's face it, soccer has hardly any fans in the United States. It seems like the only fans they have down there are immigrants from other countries. There's even a team, Chivas USA, which is basically the American version of the Mexican team, and basically all their fans are Latinos. But these ordinary ignorant Americans don't care about the rest of the world's sports and don't bother to show up. They play this game when they're kids, and then they grow up and decide they aren't interested in the sport because all the best leagues are European. Every time the USA qualifies for the World Cup I've seen stories done on nightly news to the effect of "Americans ought to get with the rest of the world and follow soccer, and why aren't Americans soccer fans?"

To which I respond, "because soccer is not part of the American culture. American culture is baseball, football and basketball." And Canadian culture is hockey. It's like saying the British ought to be baseball fans or hockey fans. Let's face it, soccer just isn't part of the culture the way it is in England or Brazil or Italy. You just don't see people in pubs in the USA drinking ale and watching soccer games, and then committing acts of hooliganism. Instead they drink beer and watch the NFL, and then they go home. Different culture.

That's why I find it interesting to tune into soccer games in the US. When you see pro soccer played in the USA you think "what's this game doing here?" You're so used to seeing these games played in these exotic European countries and in Latin America before huge crowds in big stadiums. So it's really cool to tune into coverage of a sport that the mainstream American sports media basically ignores all the time. It's also cool to tune into games from a place like LA and see actual fans in the stands, for a soccer game, in the USA. All the die-hards.

I blame my political colleagues for getting me interested again in soccer, a lot of them are massive soccer fans and that got me sucked into following the game again. Plus, I have the NHL to thank for all the freed-up time. Thanks again, Gary and Bob!

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