The World Cup has completed its group play stage and has reached the exciting knockout quarterfinals. The remaining teams are now battling for the title of World’s best, with only the razor’s edge of margin separating the very top teams. The drama, excitement and pressure are all building and drawing in more and more fans around the world.
All of this excitement has me lamenting that I have not seen a World Cup event in person. I’ve stated that my goal in 2014 will be to attend the World Cup in Brazil. But as I think about attending the World Cup, I also ask myself which event would be better to attend: the World Cup or the Olympics. After all, Brazil also hosts the 2016 Olympics. To me the answer is clear: the World Cup, and this article from sports journalist Peter King provides the justification better than I ever could.
The key passage from his postcard from Johannesburg is shown below:
“I looked around. There were Hondurans with their flag, dozens of Brazilians with a few of theirs, Italians in their smart blue Azzuri jackets, Germans (who somehow, somewhere found Becks), South Africans on and offstage, Americans, English, Spaniards, Dutch (in bright orange), vocal and imbibing Aussies, a ton of Mexicans (with a few sombreros), Ghanaians with their trademark black star celebrating their afternoon victory, and a family of Danes, all in Danish team jerseys.
When the game kicked off, fans of all these nations blew those omnipresent vuvuzelas, drank Castles and Windhoeks from passing beer vendors, and stood shoulder to shoulder, yelling and rooting and drinking. (And in many cases, annoyingly, smoking.)
Americans in sweatshirts, and Namibians in skirts and carrying walking sticks, watching Germany play Australia. The World Cup. It’s not like anything I’ve seen.”
What King’s observations point out to me is the global diversity in the fans who attend the events. Spectators from South America, Africa, as well as large and small countries in Europe and the US are represented. Plus, at the World Cup, some of the lesser powers of soccer who have qualified have passionate fans who’ll be out of this world excited to advance out of the first round (Ghana) or even just win a match (New Zealand in this World Cup). Given those expectations, those countries will even send some of their fans to the event.
I have attended a Summer Olympics, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. While the experience was quite memorable, I found the event and the preponderance of spectators to be targeted and dominated by the prevailing countries in the majority of events: the US, major European countries, and China. I did not see many South Americans or Africans. While the ‘96 Olympics has often been called the most commercial of the recent Olympic games, I do believe that spectator mix is representative of most Summer Olympics. And ultimately and most importantly, the passion that the fans have for the World Cup can’t be matched at the Olympics.
Now, ironically, the event that I enjoyed the most at the 96 Olympics was soccer. I attended a semi-final match between Brazil and Nigeria. An incredible match where Nigeria came back from a 3-0 deficit at halftime to tie the score 3-3 at end of regulation and then win it in extra time. An unbelievable comeback, but the most memorable part of the experience wasn’t what was happening on the field, but rather the stands. A small group of Nigerian fans, dressed from head to toe in their native attire, was absolutely delirious after the victory, celebrating with anyone and everyone around them. Such passion and joy—while I saw that at the Olympics, that was a rare occurrence at those Olympics. That passion and joy to me is the epitome of what you’ll see routinely at the World Cup— the reason why I hope to be in Brazil in 2014!