More Than A Game: What Actually Makes Soccer So Important To People All Over The World

It’s almost impossible to ignore the impact that “soccer” has on different countries, around the world.

In America, winning or losing a football match isn’t life or death. But the rest of the world feels differently. In fact, football — as it’s known everywhere else around the world — can mean life or death.

If you were to ask former Liverpool manager, the legendary Bill Shankly, he would assure you in many places, “it’s much, much more important than that.”

Football is more than just a sport almost everywhere else across the globe. Brazilian scholars, Ricardo dos Santos and Francisco Texiera, describe football as “the secular religion of this era with all its myths, rules, and received heroes,” especially in their home country.

I guess you could say Brazilians are known to be a little “crazy” with their football obsession — but then again, maybe Americans are just a little too apathetic with regard to the world’s sport.

Upon further inspection, Brazil is not alone in seeming “crazy” when it comes to its worship of football. In Rosario, Argentina, if any of the infinite Christian churches don’t suit your fancy, you can always stop for a quick prayer at the Iglesia Maradoniana, which is, you guessed it, an entire church denomination dedicated to football legend, Diego Maradona.

Equipped with 10 commandments, and its own official hymn —“Our Diego,” the Iglesia Maradoniana is an actual religion practiced by fans of the retired great.

In Europe, the impact of football on its citizens is displayed in much more subtle forms. As Tamir Bar-On explains in his novel, "The World through Soccer: The Cultural Impact of a Global Sport,” France has seen football take shape in the form of a vehicle for social change.

Any New Yorker who’s taken a Snapchat in front of the Eiffel Tower can attest to the fact that French people, as a rule, aren’t the warmest hosts to foreigners.

Former France national team captain, Zinedine Zidane, could attest to that fact also, before bringing home his nation's first and only World Cup in 1998. Zidane’s Berber Algerian roots were put proudly on display throughout France’s quest for the Cup.

In the football frenzied nation of France, any questions regarding his French identity ended with the completion of the 1998 World Cup.

The influence of football on a country’s people doesn’t always result in a favorable outcome, though. In North Korea for example, the outcome is public shaming.

Following North Korea’s 2010 World Cup embarrassment in South Africa, the team was “summoned to an auditorium at the working people's culture palace in Pyongyang, forced onstage, and subjected to a six-hour barrage of criticism for their poor performance."And if you asked South Korea's media? They’ll tell you this squad got off lightly, and that prison camps exist for even more “dishonorable” teams.

A survey conducted in North America, before the 2010 World Cup, does a great job of showing just how intense the most extreme football fans can be.

Of the 20,000 respondents surveyed (who hail from countries contending for the Cup), 51 percent stated that they would happily starve themselves for a week, to see their team win it all; 40 percent of the respondents would give up dating for a World Cup victory; 7 percent would quit their jobs; 4 percent would give up a body part.

Among European nations, these numbers were even more staggering: 93 percent of English respondents admittedly would give up food for a week to see England hoist the cup, and around 70 percent of Italians would quit their job for an Azzurri victory!

So why is it that football holds such massive importance in countries seemingly everywhere, yet America remains generally apathetic?

Tamir Bar-On argues that the importance of introduction to football as a child, and the notion of football as a dream has helped to strengthen its influence around the globe. The admiration for football instilled from childhood creates a unique bond between the fan and the sport.

This relationship that can often turn interest in soccer into love of the sport. The camaraderie between teammates in the heat of battle, or countrymen watching their nation compete, are “profound”— and this experience is often missed among the American youth, where American Football is the nation’s sport.

In that same vein, America has “its own” set of sports that children grow up playing: baseball, basketball, and American football. Still, fans of the “American sports” simply don’t reach the extreme levels which “soccer” does in other nations.

Remember the Miami Heat last Playoffs? The Heat of 2013 were a team dressing two of the best players in basketball, one who happens to be named LeBron James — arguably the game’s most talented asset. In the 4th quarter of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, fans of the Miami Heat couldn’t even stay at the arena long enough to watch their favorite team end their season.

Forget giving up a body part for your favorite team. Basketball fans in Miami couldn’t even give up half an hour’s worth of traffic for theirs. Oh yeah, did I mention the Miami Heat ended up winning Game 6 in one of the most dramatic finishes in sports history?

Say what you will about how crazy football fans may be around the world, at least they’re loyal.

Top Photo Courtesy: Twitter