When the Internet first came out, perhaps due to being only experienced enough with media to know the difference between a plumber in red and a radical hedgehog, I saw no practical application for it. It was too slow, got cut off every time my Grandma called and had only basic, text-based communication that seemed impersonal. It's hard to remember that the futuristic Star Trek stuff of present day has really only been in our midst for six or seven years. I walk into another room in my apartment and can see my roommates video-chatting with a relative who is thousands of miles away. Though occasionally stuttering, you can still see her newborn baby, which is the point.
By the same future imperfect standard, the fact that I watched the Ghana-Uruguay match streaming shakily from my computer on a moving train is indictive of the way our media has changed but the World Cup has not. The World Cup is the last truly uniting world sporting event, even if our country's only entry was in 1986 and we never scored a goal (polite to the end).
And, yes, even more so than the Olympics. The Winter Olympics have the uncomfortable socio-economic barrier related to the cost of locally growing athletes in sports that require expensive equipment, training and, uhhh, snow. The Summer Olympics have a grip on more nations but feel tainted by doping and are also somewhat cost prohibitive. But anyone can play soccer. The only difference between me and Lionel Messi on the pitch is creativity, athleticism, Dustin Hoffman's facial features and a few million dollars. I never get the feeling I could play in the NBA based on my blacktop history, but something about football feels directly intuitive and human. It's a populist sport that highlights our similarities and differences in a positive way, without resorting to stereotype.
This is highlighted by celebration. Ghana, the sentimental favourite for being the last African nation left in the quarterfinal round (and potentially for being the cradle of civilization), were prone to dancing after goals. Germany's striker Miroslav Klose does a front flip and then fist pumps when he lands. Argentinians hug and look each other in the eyes. Americans are all "YEAH!"
This also gets covered by the smaller tenets of the sport: the varying response to the anthems, the religious overtones (Argentinian coach Diego Maradona has a rosary wrapped around his hand for entire matches), the colloquial team names (England are called the Three Lions, for instance). Organized football is highly codified and orthodox in its periphery but completely fluid and extemporaneous within the confines of the game and this curious juxtaposition is what drives international interest.
The big controversy of this World Cup has been related to the refereeing. There have been several dubious cards and there have been at least three mistakes that have affected scoring outcomes of games. People have been clamouring for goal-line technology and referee access to video replay. There is anxiety about adding these concepts in fear of losing the fluidity of the sport to stoppage and cost barriers involved with installing the new measures in poorer nations that may host the World Cup in the future.
While I think some changes should be implemented, I find FIFA's stubborn refusal to bend to the will of the new electronic world charming and also representative of the game being flesh and blood, a stabilizing force in an ever-changing world. Unlike the Olympics or G20, the World Cup is probably the only larger-than-life entity that doesn't force the local inhabitants to be displaced. "The beautiful game" is inherently welcoming.
The World Cup is remarkably social and, most importantly, impervious to technological shifts. There is no performance-enhancing drug that can make you more creative. I find solace in the fact that when I'm watching the final this Sunday, I'll be tapped into a network bigger than the World Wide Web (the collective consciousness) and it won't be in response to the whim of a few world leaders. It's something we can all share. V