Thursday, February 02, 2006

2006 A special year in Sport

2006 is one of those years when, in the sporting world, a sort of harmonic convergence occurs.  Beginning Sunday with the Superbowl in Detroit, Michigan, continuing with the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and finally July’s World Cup Final in Berlin, Germany spectators should be sated with fabulous examples of athleticism.  Of all these events the World Cup Final will be the most watched, both in person and through radio and television.  The claims of commercial success will be mooted by excitement of the fans.

The Superbowl is the premier event in the United States; of course there are other championships of importance, for example the World Series in baseball, the NBA championship of professional basketball and “March Madness” to determine the National Champions of Collegiate Basketball.  There is no satisfactory tournament to declare a clear collegiate football national champion, so the Superbowl must suffice.  Most years this contest is unremarkable with one team clearly dominating the other; its anticlimactic nature has often cast doubts upon its value.

This year will be one of those different years.  I am picking the Pittsburgh Steelers to win, though it could easily go the other way.  I like the Steelers for the simple reason that the unquantifiable sports element of emotion is on their side.  In such a case any athlete will tell you that all else being equal the team with the most heart or will or desire will prevail. The game will be close and exciting. There will be a large audience for this event, but the best is yet to come.

Turin will present an opposite picture.  The Olympics, except for certain events, is all about individual achievement.  These athletes have trained for years, often in a solitary state and without much financial support, to earn the right to compete.  There is fire in their souls.  The sad thing is that corruption has diminished the importance of the Olympics and reduced it to simply another commercial production that showcases athletic ability.  Its audience is shrinking and not just because of a plethora of competing sporting events.  The Olympics has become the UN of athletics meaning that politics, money, and power have become the object rather than the good of sport.  Yes, hypocrisy has always been in evidence; Jim Thorpe is probably the best example of this.  Yes, politics have always been a key factor in presentation and site selection, Berlin 1936 being the most outrageous example.  The Winter Games in Salt Lake City saw the bubbling over of the corrosive impact of money on sport.  Still, the events will be exciting, the athleticism simply wonderful, the victories, and defeats heart-warming and heart-breaking.  For extended drama the Olympic Games still offer and experience worth having.

Now to the greatest event on earth; the FIFA World Cup Final, an event not to be missed.  This event will have the largest audience, approximately 37 million, and generate the most interest worldwide of any sporting contest. In the United States it will be mostly overlooked, but everywhere else the world will stop turning in places like Iran, Argentina, and England when their teams are playing. It is simply amazing how much interest and emotion is invested in this event. Suicides have resulted when teams lose; players have been assassinated when their side has been defeated. Since its inception in 1930 there have been only seven different winners yet the interest borders on the fanatical. Football is the number one sport in the world, it is played in practically every country and each of them wants to simply participate in the Cup Final; to win is the Holy Grail of sport. It is unlikely that the winner trend will change. I am picking Brazil to win for the sixth time, though England has a good chance of an upset. England is one of the gang of seven. Germany will have a chance to present itself as a premiere sporting nation and a beautiful locale. The rest of the world will wear its heart on its sleeve and be left gasping at the achievements on the field. What a year this promises to be.

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