In America we generally treat soccer as a second class sport. We devour information on baseball, football and basketball, and occasionally feast on anything related to golf, hockey, NASCAR or the so-called "extreme sports." But despite a slight uptick in interest in the United States, soccer has yet to capture the public's attention as it does in the rest of the world.
It is truly a tragedy that Americans haven't yet caught on, because soccer, in it's purest sense, is the definition of beautiful.
So what makes the game so wonderful? The fact that unlike other sports, soccer translates to the entire world.
Anyone can play soccer. It is the game of the poor, the starving masses yearning for freedom and social equality. Those same people need not purchase balls or goals, all they need is an old net stuffed with rags, a few sticks and an imagination. Children all over the world can play the game no matter the rung they occupy on the socioeconomic ladder.
We often forget that sports can transcend everything. They can break down the barriers of language, race, creed and color. Athletic competition puts the world on the same level and can tear down the walls that exist between us in much the same way as music, literature and art. We can all enjoy sports together regardless of where we call home or what we believe. Nothing has demonstrated the equality sports can provide more than soccer.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off on June 11 in South Africa. Along with the world's power brokers, this year's tournament features some of the poorest nations on the planet. The men representing countries like Ghana (151st of 181 in GDP per capita), Cameroon (142nd) and Nigeria (140th) will be playing for more than just a 14.4-inch golden trophy. They have the honor of giving their countries something to cheer for.
Likewise, I can guarantee you nearly every eye in Greece will be watching closely as their team opens play on June 12 against the Republic of Korea. Maybe, just maybe 90 minutes of the world's game can take their minds off of the crippling economic crisis that threatens to destroy one of the world's most beautiful countries.
What else has the power to move people the way soccer does? On game days countrymen become family, teammates become brothers and after the final whistle opponents become respected comrades as they exchange handshakes, hugs and jerseys.
A simple game that is accessible to anyone can have a profound effect and even heal divisions in the world.
When the Ivory Coast qualified for the 2006 World Cup, the country was in the midst of a brutal, four year Civil War. Ethnic and religious differences between the north and south had torn the country apart. The country's team (nicknamed The Elephants) was a representation of what the nation needed to become - a diverse group, representing virtually every region of the country, all striving for one goal.
After the Elephants qualified, captain Didier Drogba led his team's pleas for peace. The team stood as an example of what could be accomplished if countrymen put aside their differences and worked together. It gave the country a united identity and provided its citizens with common ground. For the first time in years, a divided country was once again whole. All thanks to a simple game.
Thanks largely to the example of the Elephants, the two sides came together, a deal was finally struck in 2007 and the Ivory Coast has been at peace ever since.
Where but on a soccer field would Senegal be considered more powerful than France (1-0 at the 2002 World Cup)? Or could Ghana exert total dominance over the United States (2-1 in 2006)?
Soccer gives hope to millions and brings people together like nothing else in sports. Like nothing else in the world.
Poverty is never present between the lines of a soccer pitch. Similarly, war, famine and political strife are left outside the arena. It is a place of peace, tranquility and seamless artistry. There are few spots on the planet fitting that description these days.
Soccer, a simple game that anyone can play, has the ability to provide hope to citizens all over the world.
If that isn't beautiful I don't know what is.