Guide to Having an Opinion on the World Cup and Most Other Sporting Events

Most guides of this type are going to be written by people who enjoy the world cup or think of themselves as “sports” watchers, those who engage with anything where men are moving around on tv, pretending not to be aware of the camera. These guides are terrible because they assume that it is information which makes a sports fan, knowledge of which team is better or which player is from where and has so many assists, etc.. It’s an easy mistake to make, because if comparing those who don’t like sports with those who do, you can match the ignorance with the enjoyment pretty perfectly.

The problem isn’t knowledge, however. You can be fed statistics and hate a game, you can be told who is better and always root for or against them, but it’s not going to be genuine. What you lack is prior to knowledge, it’s the initial desire for the knowledge itself. It isn’t that you don’t desire to watch a game or enjoy it or enjoy the social bonds that it produces, though that’s possible too, but that if you ever did desire to watch a game, you would lack this other crucial element and be inevitably stymied. Worse, you’ll end up being talked to the whole time and told all those things you never wanted to know and are now angrilly realizing come complete with the existence of game-watching pleasure itself.

How do you get the desire then? You don’t, you can’t. Concede it. These things are formed in childhood, at around the same time your sexual fantasies set. You are other than those who love sports and that wall will never be overcome, not there. What you can do, however, is surrender your attempt to know a game and gain the small but real pleasures of feeling a game. This means, most of all, turning the game into a process of self- and social-examination and expressing to those around you the types of feelings and meanings that you are carrying with you into the game.

The best way to do this is with the interaction between teams. There are all sorts of ways to do this cheaply. The most common is usually picking the team opposite the guy you’re talking to and giving good-natured insults every time something goes wrong for him, gloating slightly every time something goes right for you. This isn’t very good and is often off-putting; you can only delicately insult in a language you can speak and you are prelinguistic in this world. Why this goes wrong is, however, very important for effective here.

What someone who has little experience with sports fails to notice when they see the large public displays of good-natured (or not) confrontation, is that they’re only paying attention to the two most prominent teams at that given moment. Whether it’s the local rivalry which is promoted on the local news with giant inflatable helmets and intrafamilial dramatic arcs, or the main stage event, the Finals, the Bowl, the Series, where only two teams remain. In each of these instances, most committed team followers are excluded from the main choice and are instead occupying a place in a larger web of relationships. There are interrelationships between teams, of course, where someone playing your rival will always get your support, unless they are a bigger rival. Or the style of team you imagine yours to be, maybe you root for teams because they are from a smaller city as you are and both have resentment toward the culturally hegemonic cities. There are interrelationships between people, places you’ve lived, teams your girlfriend liked but you were indifferent toward until you broke up. What it almost never includes is actual respect and admiration for individuals, who are traitors when they leave your good team and whose success elsewhere gives you no pleasure at all. It also doesn’t include actual facts, like the style of a coach or a team somewhere. These styles aren’t fictional, but they’re not written into the plays on the field. They’re about the appearances and the expressions of mindset that a team might give, the interviews where they express a philosophy of life which you find pleasing or which valorizes your particular type of life.

Where are you left when you don’t want knowledge but you still want pleasure? Well, you need a boost from some impartial but seemingly intuitive mechanism. Let’s first try to organize how you might pick a hierarchy of three teams to root for (more is obscene) and to base your now more complicated participation rubric upon.

First, choose your home country. It’s annoying and unseemly to root against your home country, like those disgusting precocious kids who obsess about maturity. Being a traitor is arrogance first, imagining yourself better than everyone you ever knew, how gross, but second it’s a failure of imagination. Don’t think of it as nationalism or being parochial, think of only being able to become international because you have a firm ground to move from. Anything else come off as well as a fake accent.

Oh, and your home country shouldn’t need to be explained to you. A good rule of thumb is, if someone questions you, you’re full of shit.

The second team can be one of the following three: 1) an adopted country, 2) a nation that your family emigrated from within the last two generations (that means if your Grandmother was born in the same country you were, you don’t qualify), 3) a country you have a genuinely overflowing love for. The rules at this stage are more complicated, but no less intuitive and accurate; you should answer each question successively. If you have an adopted country, this is your number two, regardless of your parent’s immigration status or genuine overflowing loves. Think about it this way; a person is only allowed their home country plus one to ever represent. If you live overseas, you have your home country and your adopted country. If you haven’t been overseas but have an international heritage, there are your two countries, but if you’re now overseas, you have to get rid of the one that concerns you less directly. If you haven’t lived anywhere else and you don’t have an international heritage, then you have had to conjure some international interest and have nothing to push out. It’s very important that you only choose the first of these three to occur to your particular situation.

A third team is possible, but must be a non-threatening second-degree rival, that is, the rival of your rival who is not one of your rivals. This starts to rely on a great deal of knowledge gathering on your part, both on the histories and the “character” of each particular team. This is at least outside the most horrible types of knowledge, the statistics and rules, but may still overwhelm you when you’re just trying to engage on this level. If you don’t feel like doing this type of research, there is no rule of threes which requires you to pick a team.

It would be smart to pick two further “regions” of teams. The first is geographic, perhaps a continent, however given the overrepresentation of European teams, you could also go with a subcontinent area or conversely, a hemisphere. The second is to choose some aesthetic rule, whether to always root for an underdog, an overused but easy and attractive option, or to root for teams based on the historical, cultural, and social allusions that strike you. Think in these instances like a lazy newspaper reporter, writing for drama, whose article about a possible Spain – England final has to reference the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, or those who have already written hundreds of allusions to the American Revolutionary War after the United States and England were set to meet in the first round. No preference is given here, either to social over historical over cultural, or between the aesthetic criteria and the geographical one. Use either of these when faced with two teams to which you have no affliation based on the above criteria.

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