One welcome development in the United States in recent years has been the slow death of anti-soccer rhetoric.
When I first arrived on these shores in 1989, it was quite common for columnists who otherwise rarely wrote about sports to let loose regular diatribes against the despised game. Soccer, they claimed, was un-American, it was a socialist if not a communist sport that perhaps might be relatively harmless for seven or eight-year-old kids but would never catch on among grown men and women.
What was amazing about these outbursts was the real venom -- I could even say hatred -- that was expressed toward what after all is only a sport. One doesn't have to like every sport. Personally, I have no strong feelings for or against golf and baseball doesn't excite me. But these commentators argued that soccer was not only boring (which it sometimes is) but unnatural, un-American and positively satanic.
If God had intended for athletes to kick a ball, He would never have given them arms with which to throw a ball, some argued.
You still see that kind of stuff on websites here and then but rarely in serious newspapers and other outlets. Now, only a few eccentric out-there die-hards bother to fight what has clearly become a lost war. For slowly but surely, soccer is conquering America as it already has the rest of the world.
A quick web trawl found a couple of such articles. For example, Matthew Philbin of the Media Research Center opines:
The liberal media have always been uncomfortable with "American exceptionalism" - the belief that the United States is unique among nations, a leader and a force for good. And they are no happier with America's rejection of soccer than with its rejection of socialism.
Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute echoes an often-repeated criticism of the "beautiful game" - there aren't enough goals and the inferior team sometimes gets lucky and wins which violates the fundamental American love of fairness.
As one Internet blogger who goes by the name Bconngemini put it:
Soccer reflects the euro-socialist beliefs in not rewarding effort with reward (scoring) and creating a deadlock without clear superiority of one team over another...There is no quantifiable advancement in soccer except for a goal and those are so rare and so miserly that soccer is in essence a game of starvation where the poor must wrangle for the tiny amount of satisfaction with expending more effort than in any other sport. Every sport Americans enjoy provides continual satisfaction for every action, a batter only needs to run a few yards to get to a new base, a running back could take only one step forward before being tackled and still accomplish something. In soccer, a player could run 10km and achieve absolutely nothing.
Steven Moore of the Cato Institute says the game is even harmful for kids:
I am convinced that the ordeal of soccer teaches our kids all the wrong lessons in life. "Soccer is the Marxist concept of the labor theory of value applied to sports -- which may explain why socialist nations dominate in the World Cup. The purpose of a capitalist economy is to produce the maximum output for the least amount of exertion. Soccer requires huge volumes of effort but produces no output... So the issue of the day is whether we Americans will muster the forces to take back our culture from the un-American soccer enthusiasts. We need to channel our kids' energies into more productive activities: baseball, football, tennis, MTV -- even smoking would be an improvement.
Actually, socialist countries, if such still exist, don't do that well in the World Cup. The last three winners were Italy, Brazil and France.
Fortunately such rants have become a rarity as Americans get to know and love this most healthy and democratic of games. It's a sport where you don't have to be a seven-footer or 300-pounder to excel, (Lionel Messi, the best player in the world is 5ft 7 ins), a game for which you don't have to spend thousands of dollars on fancy equipment, a game based on constant running and movement, on agility and grace, on vision and brainwork. It's a game for men and women, for young and not so young, a game for Africans, Australians, Koreans from both North and South, for Israelis and Palestinians, Iraqis and Iranians, for Brits, Italians, Slovenians and Slovakians - and yes, for Americans.