America and World Sport

I went to a baseball game a few weeks' back. It was the most contrived, soul-less load of rubbish I have seen in a long time. Granted, the Baltimore Orioles are hardly the best ambassadors of "America's game," but please: even though the Orioles were getting thrashed, the crowd still responded to every call by the PA announcer to "cheer" or "clap." It was TV-sport, as satisfying as a TV-dinner.

Fast forward to today. I have been fighting tears hearing of England's victory over Australia in the "Ashes" cricket series. This epic battle began over a month ago when I was still at home. It just finished, and until a few hours ago, the outcome of the series was still up in the air. I am deliriously happy that England have triumphed, and gutted that I can only listen to it online. The tension, the skill, the sportsmanship of cricket is second-to none. Cricket is, absolutely, definitely, the world's greatest sport.

Football (soccer) and rugby follow closely behind.

Now, whilst the rest of the world enjoys the agony and ecstasy of international sport, America plays its games on its own. I actually like American sport. The NFL started this week-end, and I do quite enjoy the strategized violence of gridiron. And I can even understand the passion of Red Sox/Yankees hatred. But two things bug me about Americans and sport. First, the isolationism. Second, the silliness symbolized by last night's Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts game. You see, the Colts used to be in Baltimore but moved to Indy. The Ravens used to be the Cleveland Browns. So last night it was really Baltimore vs. Baltimore. Or was it Cleveland vs. Baltimore?

So, whilst Americans have been fussing over the "World Series" (what crap!), international sport has replaced war as the battlefield of the nations. Today we English relish every victory over the Germans in football (and suffer through every defeat). The feel-good factor surrounding national sporting success should not be underestimated. The poor old Yanks, however, get no such opportunity: sure there's the odd Olympic "Dream Team" success, but it's not the same as winning World Cup bragging rights. Yanks have had a taste of this: think of the famous ice hockey victory over the Soviets (pivotal in the winning of the Cold War). But if Americans continue to play games no-one else cares about, and insist that the Superbowl winner is somehow the "World Champion," their isolation from the rest of the world will continue. This is a bad thing. The Taliban vs. the USA at football would have been a lot cheaper than a war.

You can put this right. The Yanks have qualified for next year's soccer World Cup. I hope the USA get behind their only team that plays a game the world actually cares about.