People are saying that the 2018 FIFA World Cup could very well be the greatest World Cup of all time. Having watched most of the tournament for the last month, I can say they're probably right. Every game was electric; you couldn’t blink, even if the score was 2-0 because you never knew what was going to happen next. Who was going to win? Who was going to score? Penalty kick after penalty kick after penalty kick. Nothing was predictable and that made it amazing. The favorites were out early and the young guns got a chance to shine. France’s Mbappé is the first teenager to score in a World Cup Final since 1958. Who did it then? The one and only Pelé.
But that’s not why I’m here. I loved this World Cup, but what surprised me the most is how quickly this World Cup has spread. When the United States women hosted and won the World Cup in 1999, history says that it spread a love of soccer throughout the country. I was young then, five-years-old, so I don’t remember if that’s actually the case. But I think the same thing is happening here and now, and that’s super powerful.
Since the World Cup ended two days ago, I’ve already seen three kids in Neymar Jr. jerseys. Not a good choice of a player in my opinion (stop diving and play the damn game!), but, still, they liked watching him enough to get a jersey. At the beach yesterday I saw another kid in a Neymar Jr. jersey and a father and son training together— running back and forth on the beach, passing the ball, doing burpees (an eight-year-old was doing burpees!). He was training with his dad for the World Cup. If that doesn’t show the power of the World Cup, the power of major sports events in general, I don’t know what does.
I don’t remember the effects of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Again, I was five. But I started playing soccer around then, so maybe it affected me too. I have always loved soccer— I played it for ten years— and am so glad to see that so many people are watching. But soccer isn’t the exception. Many sports affect all kinds of people, brings them together and tears them a part. How many kids in Chicago do you think started playing baseball after the Cubs won the World Series? Probably a lot. Sports and the excitement of the game just have that effect on people.
I think athletes are paid way too much money, but when people complain about how sports shouldn’t be such a big thing, I don’t buy it. Sports became a huge international enterprise for a reason; I think the effect of the World Cup is that reason. Sports are a spectacle because they fill in something that people need: an energy rush, a common ground, a catharsis, anything for anyone. That’s why it’s such a big deal. And that essence of satisfying an unknown in someone is the real power of sports.
So put on your jerseys, kids, (even if they’re Neymar Jr.) and run around to your hearts content! That’s what sports are for!