As a cosmopolitan and dual citizen I have always appreciated world sporting events, since they give me the feeling that I belong to the global community, while at the same time they validate my sense of self. I was born and raised in a small and "faraway country" called Romania, of which most inhabitants of big countries would know basically nothing if it wasn't for "Dracula" and Nadia Comaneci. To top it off, Romania didn't even qualify for the World Cup in 2014.
I am definitely not what my American friends call a "sports guy." I would always choose a nice book over any sporting event. However, I remember feeling excited 14 years ago when I heard about the "Baseball World Series." I liked to watch the football World Cup and the Olympics, seeing countries from all continents competing together, gave me a special feeling of human togetherness.
It turns out though that that the baseball "World Championship Series" involves teams from only one nation: United States.
When your country is so big that in order to go from one coast to another you need to spend six hours eating airline pretzel mix and drinking Coca Cola, then I guess you can also call your baseball team "World Champions," even if in fact your country, from the whole world, is the only participant in the championship.
However, it was with great astonishment that I recently read the article called "America's Favorite Pastime: Hating Soccer," written by a certain outraged Ann Coulter. Allow me to quote some of her most relevant opinions about a sport that reunites the "other" World into the competition called World Cup, whom increasing popularity in "America" (meaning the United States) Coulter sees as a "a sign of the nation's moral decay":
In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child's fragile self-esteem is bruised. [...]
The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. [...]
You can't use your hands in soccer ... What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here's a great idea: Let's create a game where you're not allowed to use them! [...]
If more "Americans" are watching soccer today, it's only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy's 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.
I am honestly not interested in commenting on the author's nationalist-chauvinist discourse. It is only normal that globalization creates fear and hostility, especially amongst those who are emotional illiterates and have little sense of self. But the following paragraph really caught my attention:
Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls -- all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they're standing alone at the plate. But there's also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks. ANN COULTER.
What is fascinating -- and for me amusing -- is to see such a passionate advocacy for individualism displayed publicly by a person who has such a humongous need of belonging to a crowd of "heroes". Who in this case seem to be individuals able to awaken their individuality (=awareness of self) only if they face "the prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury" (this might be indeed related to the opposable thumb issue mentioned above).
Psychiatrist Murray Bowen, the founder of Family Systems Therapy, has coined the term pseudo-self, to define the individuals who have the lowest level of self-differentiation, and who are able to function in society only if they "borrow" sense of self from a crowd with which they usually share a dogmatic set of beliefs. As we well know, people are going to atrocious wars in the name of defending cultural and racial values, heroic symbols, religious or political beliefs. It is one more reason for me to take very seriously my job as a Global Leadership trainer and Cultural Intelligence adviser.
I always try to use use my empathy tools to understand different opinions, and sometimes it is harder than others. What I find difficult to understand in this case is the gender segregation and macho-aggressive stance taken by an independent, professional woman against other women and girls: "Liberal moms like soccer because it's a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys. No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level."
"Provincialism," writes Milan Kundera, "is the incapacity (or the refuse) to envision your own culture in the large context." He goes on and specifies that there is a provincialism of the big cultures, which consider themselves too important to be curious about what others do somewhere else. And then there is the provincialism of small nations, which have such a high esteem for the world culture, that it seems to them "a sky high above their head, faraway, inaccessible, an ideal reality with which" they have little in common.
"In embracing soccer, Americans are learning to take something we neither invented nor control, and nonetheless make it our own. It's a skill we're going to need in the years to come." (Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, June 30).
Whether you prefer an intercontinental World Cup or more of a local World Series, please engage in an intercultural dialog below.