In our opinion: World Cup opens in Brazil, the 'spiritual home' of soccer

Published: Thursday, June 12 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2007 file photo, people wave flags at the top of Corcovado mountain, in front of the statue, Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro, after Brazil was officially chosen by FIFA as the host country for the 2014 World Cup. Brazil's foreign minister says "all necessary measures" are being taken to ensure security at next year's soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics following the deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon. While Brazil has never been a target of international terrorism, Monday's attacks underscore how vulnerable big sporting events can be. Rio will also host two major events later this year, the Confederations Cup soccer tournament and the World Youth Day, a Roman Catholic pilgrimage that's expected to be attended by Pope Francis and as many as 2.5 million visitors.

Andre Penner, File, Associated Press

When the World Cup opens on Thursday in Brazil, it will come home to soccer’s most decorated nation, and the winner of five previous World Cups. The world’s fifth-most populous nation has been referred to as the “spiritual home” for the sport by the business publication of The Guardian: “It is impossible to overstate the importance of [soccer] to Brazil in terms of its identity and national pride.”

At the same time, the extensive infrastructure expenditures occasioned by hosting a World Cup are bound to generate some controversy. A survey released June 3 by the Pew Research Center, and based upon face-to-face interviews with Brazilian adults, found 61 percent thought hosting the World Cup to be a bad idea. The nation’s leaders have had to assuage its citizens about benefits just around the corner. “There’s no reason to panic ahead of receiving 3 million Brazilian tourists and 600,000 foreign tourists,” Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo told Time magazine.

Consider the story President Dilma Rousseff told The New York Times. In 1970, Rousseff was a member of an urban guerrilla group, under arrest by the nation’s then-military government. “At that time, many people opposed to the government initially questioned whether we would be strengthening the dictatorship by rooting for Brazil’s team” in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. “I had no such dilemma,” she said. When Brazil edged toward the championship match against Italy, which it won, even the most battle-hardened fighters rejoiced in their nation’s victory.

Rousseff’s story brings home the simplicity of a sport that is universally (except for America) referred to as football: 11 players from one nation against 11 players from another on a pitch of grass, with the singular goal of projecting a ball into a goal. And yet this game brings the world together. “Football, more than any other sport, has thrived on globalization,” said The Economist. “Nearly half of humanity will watch at least part of the World Cup.”

Now, even the United States appears to have turned a corner. Twenty years after this nation hosted the tournament, our country has a Major League Soccer whose average attendance is 18,600 per match, higher than totals for individual NBA or NHL games.

As America grows in its love for a sport that has long captivated the heart of Brazil – and almost all of the rest of the world – we look to the World Cup as an opportunity for nations to compete on a truly level playing field.

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