It’s estimated 700 million viewers worldwide watched the final game in 2010.
No, it’s not the Olympics, the World Series, or the Super Bowl. It’s the World Cup of soccer, and you will be hearing lots about this summer’s edition in Brazil from the first game kickoff on June 12 to the last whistle of the final on July 13.
There are good reasons why you should make time to watch at least a little bit on television with your kids.
The men’s senior World Cup of soccer, like the women’s senior World Cup, takes place every four years in a different country around the world. A total of 32 national teams compete in 8 groups of 4 teams over 4 weeks until 2 teams arrive at the big final. These 32 teams represent the survivors of 209 national teams that began the qualifying process up to 3 years ago.
But what makes it special for parents and kids? Apart from showcasing the exquisite athleticism and skill of the top players from 32 countries, the World Cup is a showcase for multiculturalism, child rights, anti-racism, respect in sport, anti-gender discrimination, and world harmony in general.
Seriously – no joke!
Organizers of the World Cup put a lot of energy into campaigning for different social causes, and the general buzz of good-feeling is visible in the games and associated tournament events.
Here are some key World Cup moments that I recommend you watch for:
1. Holding hands with children
At the start of each match, the two teams walk onto the field together – holding the hands of boys and girls who are dressed in matching team shirts and shorts. Imagine being one of those kids walking alongside the biggest soccer stars in the world into a stadium with 80,000 fans!
2. National anthems
Before the starting whistle, the teams line up and the national anthems are played in turn for each team. Most of the players sing and the stadium erupts as tens of thousands of fans join them with spirited gusto. This summer you will be able to hear anthems sung in English, French, German, Korean, Croatian, Arabic, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Japanese, Russian, Bosnian, and Persian. (The Italian anthem is awesome. It sounds like an opera by Verdi.)
3. Showing respect for others
After the anthems and prior to the starting whistle, the two teams pass by each other and all players shake hands. Respect for opponents and officials is a fundamental value promoted at every World Cup, as is respect for persons of all races, genders, colours, and creeds. (Sure, some of the players may get at each other on the field, but you expect athletes’ emotions to run high in a competitive game. It’s a concept worth discussing with your kids. It’s only weird if the emotions get carried off the field afterwards.)
4. The human wave
At random intervals during the game, the stadium crowd will spontaneously generate a human “wave” that circles the stadium as entire sections of spectators sequentially stand up and sit down again in quick succession. When your kids see this, they are sure to say, “Cool!”
5. Goal celebrations
When players score a goal, they always celebrate. Some celebrations are highly-ritualized personal routines that are fun to watch. Some players will launch into handsprings and backflips, others will pretend to draw an archery bow or a pistol as though they are taking target practice, some of their teammates may pretend to “shine their shoes”, and sometimes the entire team may rush together to perform 10 seconds of a traditional dance native to their country. (One of my favourite goal celebrations was watching the entire Japanese team enact a segment of the popular anime cartoon “Dragonball Z”. Now that was creative. There must have been a few first-time soccer viewers who were wondering, “What are they doing? Is that part of the game?”)
6. Fans in crazy outfits
It’s very common for fans to dress up, paint their faces, paint their bodies, wear wigs, wear crazy hats, sing team songs, and even play musical instruments. In seeing some of their antics, you might wonder sometimes if they are even looking at the game. Watching the fans is almost better than watching the match at times.
7. Players trading shirts
When the game finishes, players from both teams will approach their opponents whom they’ve been playing against for the last 90 minutes and trade shirts. It’s a sign of respect for each other, and the jerseys also become prized keepsakes for the players. (Who presumably wash them when they get home! One hopes, anyways.)
8. Grown men crying
At different junctures during the tournament, when a team is eliminated, you will often see the players collapse on the field and cry. That’s because it’s okay for grown men to cry at the World Cup. It’s not seen as shameful to show emotion or vulnerability.
These are some of my top reasons for watching the World Cup with your kids. There are always other special moments during the World Cup – such as the players of Korea and Turkey holding hands and showing unity as they celebrated together at the end of their third-place match at the 2002 World Cup – but these are harder to predict, and you might have to watch all 64 tournament matches to catch some of those extra-special moments!