Untapped Worlds – Reside

I again continue this series from the last post, Untapped Worlds — Entries and the two previous to it.
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Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Song of Myself, Walt Whitman

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Part of human nature, beginning at our very first breath, is to find identity, to feel loved, to feel a sense of value. Whitman poetically asks how is that achieved? By embracing equally, he replies, our ordinary and our extraordinary. Sounds liberating! Sounds easy, huh? If you are a child again, sure.

There are various reasons why it is not always as simple as Whitman’s monologue. But it doesn’t mean it’s impossible!

In my Introduction post of this series and the following Departure post, I covered just how truthful in 1855 Whitman’s poem describes us, “Very well then, I contradict myself…” In the next post Entries, I covered briefly how we humans probably became walking, talking contradictions; extraordinary contradictions over centuries and millenia to become one of the paradoxically dominant species on the planet. Four primary causes for this graduated progression were planetary resources, our physical bodies and brains, and our learned adaptation of more complex social collaboration. Yet, more paradoxical is that we’ve also made these remarkable leaps of advancement at a very staggering cost in human atrocities, deaths, and near extinctions. If we look more closely at these paradoxes on a group scale and personal scale, perhaps we can permanently exit our barbaric behaviours and fears, and begin to reside more permanently and safely in realized child-like kinetic, sharing creativity.

Power Management and the Grid – Planetary Resources

As I previously covered, the average human brain requires at least 12.6 watts of metabolic power to operate during an average 24-hours. The rest of our body requires about 50.4 watts for a total consumption of around 63 watts, or what nutritionists say is roughly 2,000 calories per day — 1,800 avg. for women, 2,200 avg. for men — and varies slightly due to height, weight, age, cultural region, and activity level. Care to be educated in what 2,000 calories or 63 watts looks like… for an entire day, all day? You might be surprised…

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Though the food selections above are not the “healthiest choices,” that is as much as an average person requires for one entire day. Not much more, and less if desired. Multiply 2,000 calories (63 watts) by today’s approximate world population of 7.38 billion that comes out to 17.46 trillion calories per day, almost 465 million kW per day…a very, very manageable metabolic consumption rate for a planet brimming with caloric resources; a cornucopia of life-giving sustenance for everyone several times over. Yet, many regions, local or global, have persistent annual malnutrition and famine. From the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (2014):

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014. Almost all the hungry people, 791 million, live in developing countries, representing 13.5 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing counties. There are 11 million people undernourished in developed countries.

As a fellow human being these facts slap me in the face. As an American living in one of, if not THE wealthiest nation on the planet, this hurts. This rips at my heart because daily I am surrounded, nagged, and ashamed by how excessively wasteful we are as a country. It’s everywhere here in Texas. I am not exaggerating.

WEEE man statue

The WEEE man statue, 7-meters of human electronics and electrical waste materials one human disposes in a lifetime.

It isn’t all bad news for us Yankees and Confederates, thankfully. According to the OECD the U.S. has ranked in the top three giving nations of the 28 member nations for the last fifteen years or more — because we do have so much excess. Do you think a lot more can be done?

Personal confession:  my ideal body weight for a 6-foot man is 175-180 lbs. Today I weigh 196 lbs. This is not too healthy, both on a personal scale and nowhere close on a social scale! I’m changing it. The very first step I’m taking is saying “No” a lot more often. Repeating that wonderful word is not going to greatly effect my luxurious lifestyle either. It’s probably not near enough so I am doing more. I am reducing my food portions significantly and spreading out my two meals a day. Besides, much of what goes in my mouth never enters my body — what fat molecules remain get piled around the waist — and the rest is… as they say, returned to Earth. Typically, that is over half of what I ate in the first place. As I was learning more about the gastrointestinal tract, I was appalled by the waste and stunned by the body’s incredible efficiency to create metabolic-energy from so little.

Nevertheless, the minimal lean resources we humans actually need are relative to what Earth abundantly provides and what others, like myself, take away or waste.

The Beautiful Breakable Divergent Body and Brain

They are our first impressions. How the body looks, smells, and moves can reveal its general affairs and use. The body has several ways to let us and others know if it’s ill or well, surviving or thriving. It is perhaps one of the most sophisticated organic systems in the known universe. For the sake of time, here is a highly abbreviated idea of how sophisticated.

The Skin Our body’s primary defense against the world’s microbial hordes is our skin; trillions of skin cells sacrifice themselves as shields absorbing invaders daily to soon fall off carrying would-be invaders with them. Then they are so rapidly replaced by new skin cells ready to repeat the carnage, it would make Joseph Stalin green with envy. Also, if you ever feel unattractive, consider this:  Your body is so intensely appealing to trillions of tiny-stalkers they would like nothing better than to get all over you!

Immune System — It can be considered one of the most powerful array of defense weapons ever gathered in one organization. It can respond to attacks in broad or specific ways and due to highly sophisticated training, the system is like the body’s élite Special Forces in two basic Divisions:  AB and CA. The AB, or antibody division, is led by B-cells handling most bacterial attacks. The CA, or cellular division, is made up of T-cells which are most effective against viral attackers. Both divisions derive their “special skills” from stem cells in bone marrow. Both can diversify as required by the battleground’s demands. Both divisions patrol the body far and wide. The immune system requires the effectiveness of the next system/buffet.

Amino Acid Buffet — About half of our organic material in our bodies is protein. It is usually connected to muscles, but protein is deployed in the body in a dazzling variety of ways and in tens of thousands of forms. Every day our bodies belly up to the amino acid buffet, creating thousands of proteins from 22 basic building blocks called amino acids. Some become muscle and sinew, some as hormones — messengers that stimulate growth, order organs to speed up or slow down, direct nerve traffic as well as manage how cells handle blood sugar. Others make up antibodies, the soldiers of the aforementioned immune system’s two combat divisions.

MAP

Sexual divergence illustrated

These three systems are only a tiny portion of multiple systems that make humans the most complex species on Earth. Yet, as covered in previous posts in this series, as remarkable as the design of the human body is it has flaws, weaknesses, and divergence. Compared to many other species which have retained and perfected their body configuration over tens or hundreds of millions of years, our hominid ancestors only started walking upright around 3-4 million years ago. This is barely enough time to sort out the imperfections, one of which we may feel every night or so in our lower back. Our spinal column comes from a model that evolved to better suit quadrupeds. Being bipedal results in gravity’s full force down our backbones, compressing vertebrae and squashing the disks that sit in between them:  herniated disks. Perhaps it’s time to return to a lot more ‘horizontal‘ activity! 😈

The healthy and young suffer from evolutionary imperfections. Many pro athletes ask too much of their knees and shoulders than our current structures are mechanically able to perform. Youths suffer through acne, another probable evolutionary hangover. In other hairy animals, sebaceous glands disperse oil onto hair fibers aiding a supple and rain-proof coat. Oddly, Homo sapiens have become less and less hairy and those same oils clog and infect the sebaceous glands causing unsightly acne.

The Brain — A good deal of time was spent pointing out the human brain’s shortcomings in the first two posts. Now I wish to point out the nervous system’s astonishing control-room, the brain. Our skulls hold about a 2.8 pound tapioca-like goop holding about 100 to 200-billion neurons and many of them can interconnect with 10,000 or more other neurons throughout the entire body. This network means that the various pathways an impulse can take inside the brain can possibly exceed the number of particles in the Universe. The fact that some of us can hardly obey basic traffic laws or balance a checking account is not for the lack of tools!

As humankind faces known and unknown species-threatening biological diseases, social and planetary dysfunctions, any of which that could lead to near extinction, if not full extinction in the next fifty to one hundred years, it becomes utterly critical than ever before in human history that the human race begin thinking a lot more in terms of a species and not individuals. But wait! That is not all of it. Simple altruism will not achieve complete survival of our species. The journey and struggle for higher enlightenment, quicker evolution, and dynamic social ecological collaboration are ironically and equally an individual one as it also relates to the whole species. They cannot be separated. But more on this cognitive paradox later in the series.

Litmus and Human Chemistry – Our Social Life

Don’t worry Wilson, I’ll do all the paddling. You just hang on!” Chuck Noland’s relationship with a volleyball, in the film Cast Away, sums up how much we need social interaction for identity, inspiration, and a functioning level of sanity in an otherwise apathetic daunting world.

GroupAround 3-million years ago hominids began sharing resources, probably because they witnessed sharing among other animal groups particularly with offspring. This activity facilitates what is known in modern neurology and psychology as parental attachment. This bonding has several supporting social and physiological dynamics, most notably cognitive and hormonal bonding. Studies on infants and toddlers infer an innate need for children to develop emotional attachments to increase their chances of survival. Parental attachment eventually expands with age into more complex bonding mechanisms of group and mating attachments and identity, again satisfying our innate needs of survival and hormonal rewards. When none of these cognitive and hormonal dynamics exist for an infant, toddler, or adult, the result is a higher increase in stress or the release of cortisol by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA Axis) which if prolonged, leads to a rippling-effect into other negative health complications such as digestive problems, heart disease, sleep deprivation, depression, and memory-concentration impairment to name a few. In contrast though, positive social interaction is associated with increased oxytocin. Oxytocin and vasopressin are major deterrents against stress-hormones and in both toddlers, children, and to extents adults too, enhancing human motivation for curiosity and intellectual growth of expression, language, mathematical, and logic-cognitive growth… all wonderful contributions to a secure healthy emotional base.

Now that I’ve quickly touched upon what goes on inside our body and brain on the microscopic biological spectrum — there is just too much to cover in a few posts; a virtual multi-storied library — I move on to external influences, stimuli, nourishment or dis-ease that enter our brain and body through all five senses.

The Question of Free Experiential Learning

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Free children quote - ASNeill

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Many of you may have been raised in systemic public schooling like me. Every single school morning in 1st period the class would stand, and in unison verbally recite word-for-exact-word… “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for All.” Later as an adult and a teacher of several public school districts I was required to lead all my 1st period students in the Pledge of Allegiance, persuading each to follow suit if necessary. Why? What was the purpose of this oath?

When I was a boy I asked my Dad what the pledge was all about. Being a former Eagle Scout then U.S. Marine Corps soldier, my father explained in simpler terms a code and what I elaborate today as a code of honor, courage, and committment to live by and to guard our nation’s principles, as an élite noble warrior if necessary. This began my deep lifetime boyish admiration for military history, its valiant soldiers, leaders, and the powerful survival concept Band of Brothers. The code of Semper Fidelis and what it means is something that for personal reasons quickly and embarrassingly brings tears to my eyes. Since 1990 I have continued to learn the stark contrast between freedom and license.

Real Madrid FC supporters

Real Madrid FC supporters

Nationalism, along with religion and sports fans, is one of civilization’s most potent methods of systemic taught and learned “beliefs”. What is most intriguing is that nationalism is everywhere around most of the world, yet it can be quite illusive to nail down what those beliefs are exactly that define nationalism or patriotism. One common form of nationalism is the odd belief that your nation is superior to others in particular ways. “Patriotism is your conviction” George Bernard Shaw notes, “that your country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” Indeed, even though one has no real control of where your mother births you, happenstance falsely gives you the conditioned right to proudly brag. Another form of nationalism is the perceived (and taught) duty to protect your nation when under threat, e.g. my father’s and my nation’s USMC code. This form of conditioning fascinates me and it can be found not only in the psyche of human groups, but also in many other species on Earth! I will address this phenomenon later in the series. Even more fascinating is that nationalism is a recent human endeavor, emerging only over the last three centuries!

Since the mid-1600’s nation-builders couldn’t simply use enthusiasm to unite people. Enthusiasm is too emotionally temporary; prolonged high levels of adrenaline, or epinephrine, exhaust the body’s hormonal and nervous system. This condition is associated with combat veterans suffering from PTSD or extended periods of the adrenaline-high “fight-or-flight” mode. The body needs to return to periods of standard hormonal levels to fully function.

No, instead nation-builders found a powerful more permanent tool:  captive audience. In other words, a national education system teaching the nation-state’s “unique” ideology. In religion, it is and has historically been no different.

Should a national and/or religious education system be the one and only single form of teaching and learning? John Maynard Keynes was one of Western civilization’s prolific economists of the early 20th century. During the Great Depression (1929-1939) Keynes was popularly criticized for his M.O. of inconsistency. When forced to explain his fluidity, he replied “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do Sir?” Sherlock Holmes had a similar anecdote reminding Watson, “When you have eliminated  the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” There is a profound ceaseless curiosity innate in our human psyche from our earliest days as a toddler. If free to explore and not ruthlessly confined and coerced, human cognition can brilliantly unlock mysteries of the subatomic to the macro-cosmic and everything in between, including the far reaches in ourselves.  Alexander Neill also believed in this learning philosophy. In 1921 Neill believed “school should be made to fit the child, rather than the other way around.” The role of the parents and nation-states was simply to protect the integrity of that freedom and nurture liberating non-stop curiosity which fuels human ingenuity and the highest human virtues. Neill’s Summerhill School in Lyme Regis then Leiston, Suffolk, England, was and is a radical departure from traditional religious and national education systems. However, our species didn’t make evolutionary and revolutionary leaps or breakthroughs by remaining intellectually, physically, biologically, and philosophically stagnate. No, progress requires continual questioning, reëxamination, and possible-probable retooling — residing in fluidness if you will — even in the face of perceived contradictions or threats from establishments.

“Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

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There is little doubt how much we truly need each other. The big question is how we need each other? What are the connections? Language, symbols, and physical expression are the acute methods of navigating our social soups. Mastering all of them could not be more urgent as our species confronts the biological, social, and ecological dilemmas and crises of the 21st century.

In the next post of this series Untapped Worlds — Retooling, I will explore what it means to be a part of a super-organism, what it means to be surrounded by endless biodiversity, and how more humans are finally catching up with other highly eusocial species on the planet, yet also highlight the coexisting paradoxes or contradictions that subtly distinguish us from other animals species, but never alienate us.

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Uniting the World

Most coveted trophy in all of sports

There is an irrational sports mentality in America that the National Football League (NFL), or National Basketball Association (NBA), or Major League Baseball (MLB), and their televised “world championships” are the biggest spectacle in sporting events in the world.  This is strictly an American invention, however.  It does not exist anywhere except within the lower 48-states.  The reality is this:  the NFL, NBA, and MLB pale and pale greatly when put next to FIFA’s World Cup tournament and championship every four years.  But certainly don’t take my word for it.  Let’s look at these numbers.
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A London, UK-based media company called Initiative, Futures sport + entertainment, a firm that publishes reports and research on all and any sporting events, states “Soccer’s domination of global TV viewing is now complete.”  According to Initiative, in 2009 the NFL’s Super Bowl XLIII was knocked off its most-viewed-event-in-the-world perch.  This television topple has been coming since at least 2002, and immeasurably and arguably well before 2000.

Let’s start with the size of leagues or associations by the number of teams and their fans.  These will strictly be men’s sports.

 

Number of Teams and Confederations

In the NFL there are 32 teams that play for the Super Bowl Championship.  In the NBA there are 30 teams that play for the NBA Championship.  In MLB there are also 30 teams that play for the World Series Championship.  These three American professional sports have a total of 92 teams playing for three different championships.  Now let us examine FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.

fifa_logoFor just over three years, 226 national teams all over the world (as of 2014) compete for inclusion into the opening group-play in the FIFA World Cup tournament held every four years.  That is over 7-times larger than the NFL and nearly 8-times larger than the NBA and MLB association and league respectively.  But this comparison isn’t quite accurate; it doesn’t portray the true size of professional soccer players and their pro teams in each of those 226 FIFA nations.

FIFA is comprised of six (6) futebol, or soccer associations, represented by individual continents.  The CAF (Confederation of African Football) comprises 54 national teams, each of those nations with professional leagues of teams/clubs totaling approximately 408 teams within those 54 nations; each team with an approximate roster of 22-25 players.  Additionally, the 408 teams are merely the Top professional teams in the continent’s Top Leagues.  There are typically lower 2nd and 3rd division leagues, or more, on each continent.

The next continental association, in alphabetical order, is the AFC (Asian Football Association) comprising 47 national teams.  Within the 47 member nations, there are approximately 248 clubs/teams playing in AFC’s Top professional leagues; again, with approximately 22-25 players per roster.  Once again, there are typically lower 2nd and 3rd division leagues as well.

UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) is the marquee FIFA association in the world, as well as the richest.  It comprises one of the two elite Top footballing associations of the world with 54 member nations.  Inside of the 54 nations consists approximately 871 Top professional teams/clubs with typically 4 to 5 lower divisions.  And remember from here on out, each club’s roster consists of a minimum 22-25 players!

It is worth noting that with each of these national teams and each of these local or regional club-teams within each nation comes a passionate loyal following of fans five to fifteen times larger than the club’s roster!  I dare you to try and do that math.

The next FIFA association continent is CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) with 45 member nations.  The United States is a member of this association.  Within these 45 nations are approximately 155 teams/clubs playing in their Top professional leagues.  And from here on out remember there are typically a minimum of 2 to 3 or more lower divisions.

Next is the OFC (Oceania Football Confederation) comprising 16 member nations with approximately 30 teams/clubs competing in Top professional leagues within these 16 nations.

CONMEBOL (Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol), or commonly the South American Football Confederation, consists of 10 member nations.  This confederation is the world’s second elite association next to UEFA.  It has a staggering 1,931 teams/clubs competing in each nation’s Top professional leagues.

 

Rungrado_May_Day_StadiumAll in all, and if you were not tracking the total number of club teams within each nation in their Top professional leagues (i.e. not including all lower divisions), the approximate total of teams/clubs fielding players who dream about an individual chance to participate in the world’s ultimate sporting spectacle in their lifetime… conservatively it is approximately 3,643 teams/clubs dwindled down to 226 national teams, over a 3-year period, to play together for just two months, every four years.  If we multiply those 3,643 teams with their faithful fans, say 5-times the 25-man roster of the club (91, 075 pro players) multiplied by the average soccer stadium capacity of 40,000 spectators, that bare-bone minimum fan-base equals almost 146-million live spectators.  But this is a very conservative figure.  According to FIFA.com “Facts and Figures”, an estimated 715.1 million fans watched on TV the 2006 World Cup Championship final in Germany; 3.18 million attended the 64 matches of the tournament.  And these figures do not include various viewing-venues across the host nation.

The real scale of this sport during the World Cup tournament – not just by persons inside the stadiums but on television, viewing-venues, and now over the internet – is near incomprehensible in size, popularity, and economic revenues.  And it is taking place again this June 2014.

 

The Economics of World Soccer

In this day and age of sports, soccer is king of mega business:  a global industry with a wide spectrum of television contracts and lucrative merchandising deals which generate hundreds of billions of dollars annually.  A number of clubs around the world now rank among the highest earning wealthiest sports teams on Earth.  However, as quickly as revenues roll-in, they are paid right back out to multi-million dollar player contracts, signing fees and bonuses.

GSSS-2014-top-12ESPN Magazine recently reported (April 2014) the Top 25 highest-paid athletes in the world – their endorsements are not included.  Of the Top 5, three are soccer players:  Cristiano Ronaldo ($50.2M) of Real Madrid FC, Lionel Messi ($50.1M) FC Barcelona, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ($35M) of Paris Saint-Germain.  According to Sportingintelligence’s Global Sports Salaries Survey (April 2014), Manchester City FC of the English Premier League, is the world’s best paid team paying out an average salary of $172,508 per week to its first-team players.  Of the world’s Top 5 highest-paying sports teams, Spanish La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona round out fourth and fifth at $161,373 per week and $158,397 per week respectively.  The average professional athlete contract is 5-years.  In this latest edition of the Global Sports Salaries Survey (GSSS), it provides a list of 100 teams paying out the most money per average first-team player over five years:

The eye-watering sums on offer in elite European football [i.e. Barcelona FC] and in the major sports leagues in America effectively mean that a single five-year deal should provide enough money to setup a player for life.  Real Madrid have the next highest five-year total:  $41M per player on average, followed by the Yankees ($39.7M), then Manchester City ($35M), and Chelsea FC ($34.3M).

The last table-graphic shown in the GSSS article (below image) is particularly enlightening for American sports fans.  It shows that of the Top 20 five-year earnings for first-team players of all major sports around the world, HALF of them (10) are soccer teams/clubs.  Of the remaining 10 sports, only five are NBA teams and four are MLB teams.  National Football League teams do not make the list at all until No. 93:  the Dallas Cowboys.

GSSS-2014-made-for-lifeThe primary reason soccer tops most team and player-salary lists is that almost ALL POSITIONS on the playing field are important (probably critical) for the organization to be successful and profitable.  Soccer is, as well as basketball and hockey, are true team sports.  In the sports of MLB and the NFL, that is not the case.  The pitcher or pitching staff and quarterback are the critical positions influencing or controlling most dynamics of the game.  Those players earn monumentally more money than their other teammates.  It is also the reason why the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL are 20 places higher than the first NFL team, the Cowboys.

Do these numbers explain why soccer unites more of the world than any other sport on the planet?  What about the emotion, the passion of its fans?

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The Fans

What does it mean when one asks the question, “What is the most popular sport in the world?”  Does it mean the sport most-watched, most-played, or perhaps the wealthiest based on revenue?  Yes to all three.  I have done the research and spent the time answering this question, and if you choose to search for the answer as well, you will find the majority of polls and surveys will all say the same thing:  soccer.

Why is soccer the king of all sports on the planet and has been for many decades?  The passion of its fans is certainly one reason.  If you’ve never been to a major soccer game in Europe or South America, among singing dancing fans, you are missing out on a life-time experience like no other.  Want a taste?

The wonderful atmosphere of top-flight soccer matches are finally growing in the United States.  When the U.S. Men’s National Team qualified for the World Cup in Brazil this summer, listen and watch how 40,000+ fans in Seattle, WA – some of the most excitable fans in the nation – celebrated the 3-year achievement:

But simply being amongst a mass of dancing singing humanity is only part of the experience.  Understanding what the world’s greatest players do on the field with that ball, as an 11-man team, explains why it is called and known all around the globe as “the beautiful game.”  Soccer is a worldwide language; the most popular language spoken in a multitude of dialects.  As a naïve outsider and at first glance, an American might think the world’s passion for soccer is overly simple, unimpressive.  One might write it off as a dull 90-minute game with an average score-line of 0-to-0 or 2-to-1 most games.  But that impression would be from a grossly uninformed unimaginative closed-mind.

The Players

Yes, the world’s love of the game is indeed simple:  the action is non-stop; the 22 players improvise tactics in the middle of a flowing game performing spectacular feats of athleticism and skills.  But the passion goes much deeper for more complex reasons.  The great Brazilian star Pelé describes the game as being so infused in many countries that over time the sport is not just a pastime, but has morphed into a reflection of national character.  With the diversity of global geographies and cultures come distinctive playing-styles.  These national styles have produced some of the most riveting, most brilliant moments in soccer history!  Take a look at these six clips, considered by many footballing fans as the greatest World Cup moments and goals:

World Cup Final 1970 – Brazil’s Carlos Alberto’s goal

World Cup Group-play 1970 – England’s Gordon Banks’ save vs. Pelé

World Cup 1982 – The heavily favored-to-win squad of Brazil:  “Ballet with the Ball – A Love Story

World Cup Qualifier 2001 – England’s goal frenzy vs. Germany

World Cup 2006 – The Tournament’s Best

World Cup 2010 – Top 10 Goals

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One of the most exquisite skills a world-class soccer player can master is the art of dribbling.  The game’s biggest stars have signature tricks and moves to beat their opponent.  In real time it is a blur, gone in one or two seconds.  But the amount of training and practice required to use them in the game is mind-boggling.  Watch these élite players from around the world showcase their best tricks and define why this game of soccer is so worshiped around the globe.

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The Nations

IC_jujuIn 1992 in the country of Ivory Coast in West Africa, the Ivorians were so determined to have their national team win the African Nations Cup that the government’s sports minister enlisted a battalion of fétisheurs – juju men – to place on the team a supernatural advantage against rival Ghana.  When the minister later broke promises of payment to the fétisheurs, they in turn placed a hex on the Ivorian team, which then went on a ten-year spell of losing results.  When the defense minister desperately sought to make amends with the witch doctors, offering cases of liquor and large money bags, the hex was lifted.  Almost immediately the team did a 180 and qualified for the 2006 World Cup.

In Spain, where soccer is so dramatic it is often described as theater, a Spanish novelist writes his obsession with the beautiful game this way:

Once you’ve fallen into the game, there is no getting out… [stats] will tell you almost nothing about the game itself.  The player who actually wins the game may be the one who moves into space at the opposite side of the field, drawing a defender, forcing a new configuration upon the defense and making virtually inevitable a goal that was before impossible, but no one – not even he – may be aware of this.  It’s all narrative, and thus subjective:  Each game is a story, a sequence of ambivalent metaphors, a personal revelation couched in the idiom of the faith.  No game I know of is so dependent upon such flowing intangibles as “pattern” and “rhythm” and “vision” and “understanding.”  Which may all be illusions.  And at the same time it is a very simple game:  like dreams, almost childlike.

z_bobanIn today’s Croatia, soccer is a form of group therapy which bore a new nation.  A match between Zagreb’s Dinamo and Belgrade’s Red Star in 1990 marked the beginning of Croatia’s war for independence.  After the opening whistle at kickoff, fans from both teams clashed in the stadium stands, as well as onto the field.  A Serb-dominated police force began beating Croatian spectators while allowing Serbian fans to run freely.  This ignited the already boiling-over tensions in what was then Yugoslavia.  Upon witnessing a Serb-policeman wail on a fallen Dinamo fan, midfielder Zvonimir Boban rushed and karate-kicked the officer (image above left), and later became a Croatian national hero of their independence movement.  In one of the biggest upsets in World Cup lore, Croatia beat powerhouse Germany in the 1998 World Cup Quarterfinals and then went on to win third place by beating an equally stacked Netherlands 2 – 1.  After the match, Croatians flooded the town squares and streets in adulation and song.  On television, many reporters interviewed grown men who couldn’t stop bawling.  Courtney Angela Brkic, a Croatian author, stated that “not since the declaration of independence, had so much unified celebration been seen.  Now no one could deny Croatia its place on the map.

brazil-soccer-fansIn Brazil, the only nation to have won the World Cup five times and the only national team to have appeared in all World Cup tournaments since its start in 1930, soccer is an ideology and state religion.  Nowhere in the world does a nation try so hard to play the game so beautifully as Brazilians.  And that is why Brazilian players are so loved around the world by so many fans and top leagues.  The Brazilian national team has never been ranked world-wide below No. 10, a record untouched by any other soccer nations.  Their fans do the Samba non-stop for ninety plus minutes as their players do indescribable tricks and feats between all ten of their team’s players.  It is why Brazil, on any continent, is always the beloved overdog of every World Cup.  They are the only favorite that is always a favorite.

This June 2014

If you cannot make it to games in Brazil this summer, the next best thing is to find a local pub or bar with an international flavor and history that will be televising the tournament.  I guarantee the place will be raucous and rocking with national team fans.  I always try to find a Brazilian restaurant-bar; the atmosphere is utterly electric, colorful, and beautiful.  I will most certainly support my U.S. National Team, but unfortunately their odds of advancing out of the early group stage are minimal against the exceptional likes of Portugal, Ghana, and Germany.  Nevertheless, the spectacle of the game will be phenomenal and the skills and creativity of the world’s best players on the world stage will be unparalleled.  Be a part of it.  Be united with the rest of the world for two memorable incredible months!

U.S. Soccer:  We Are Going to Brazil

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