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It's Only a Game, Really

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Call me, if you will, the Grinch, that mean-spirited curmudgeon, out to steal sports.

But this needs saying.

The world — or atleast the TV viewing world — is in the grip of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association; see I know my FIFA; do you?) World Cup fever, billed as the biggest sporting competition in the world. FIFA boasts that “an estimated 715.1 million people watched the final match of the 2006 FIFA World Cup held in Germany.” No doubt the organizers hope to push the envelope to a billion this time around.

The World Cup is a national obsession from Europe and Africa to the Americas, Asia and beyond. Come to think of it, I may I have just seen some satellites sprouting up in Saturn and Mars. Now there is a more credible (and safer) business plan for Aereo, the technology company offering consumers postage-size antennas, which was shut down (well, in effect) by the U.S. Supreme Court for copyright violations.

Or maybe FIFA has the planets protected too. I have seen one NBC contract asserting: “Client shall have the sole and exclusive right throughout the universe in perpetuity to use and exploit all or any part of the Properties and all or any part of any material contained therein or prepared therefor, whether or not used therein, in any format or version, by any means and in any media, whether now known or hereafter developed.”

But seriously, my gripe is against the maniacal obsession with sports — worldwide. With FIFA. With cricket in South Asia. With baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, or whatever they call those human matadors on skates, in the United States.

It was one thing to cheer for the Indian hockey team every four years at the Olympics, when it offered the only long-shot at a gold medal, or for the cricket team during the bi-annual test matches, which they so sportingly lost.

But now it is every sport, all the time. The World Cricket Cup, The FIFA World Cup, Olympics. Games we do not play. Games no one else plays. National pastimes, such as major league baseball, which postures as the World Series. Now if we only had the verve that Americans do by calling gilli danda, global danda, the sport would not be on its death throes. The Americans, humiliatingly, call a gilli danda knock off, pee-wee. Pee-wee!

Pee-wee, I say to all this global obsession with sports of all varieties!

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for the fun of the game — if you are playing. And sure, enjoy, if you will, watching it, in real life or on the screen, in little leagues or big ones.

What I can’t take is the compulsive obsession, the euphoria of teams winning (with many of whom you don’t have even the remotest connection) or the despondency over their loss.

Get a life!

But what really gets my goat is the billions and billions of dollars squandered annually on sports and the gazillions athletes make for swinging a bat or chasing a ball. The World Cup is expected to cost Brazil $14 billion —and they are still mad about the infrastructure! FIFA projects that it will spend $2 billion on the finals. The World Cup winner will snap up $35 million. The losers — losers — the 16 teams eliminated in the group stage, stand to pocket $8 million each!

And it is not just teams, but individual athletes too — Cristiano Ronaldo, $80 million; LeBron James, $72 million; Lionel Messi, $64.7 million; Kobe Bryant, $61.5 million. That is just in one year. For chasing balls!

I know, I know. I am not changing any minds here. So here is a thought. I wish the United States wins the World Cup this year. Not that I really care. But I would really like the U.S. team with 80:1 betting odds to pull off a real upset over Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Holland, France, Columbia, them all!

Perhaps all those nutty European and Latin American fans will then be turned off the whole damn sport in sheer disgust.

And we can then all return to appreciating football, and baseball and cricket and basketball for what they really are. Just games.

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Commentary | Sports | July 2014

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