By John Jarvie
Boating is a universal language. Anywhere in the world, we have the capacity to communicate, bond and relate through experiences that only another boater could fully understand. While attending the World Cup Finals in 2006, it was clear that soccer was also a universal language. This can be experienced at a variety of soccer competitions around the globe, but none so much as the World Cup.
When we’re physically in the host country, we feel the enchantment in the air like a child at Disneyland. Opposing supporters join hands as they fill the streets to represent their country’s culture through music, song and dance. Itching for more, several friends and I vowed to attend every World Cup in the future – which led us to South Africa in 2010, Brazil in 2014, and now Russia in 2018.
Our World Cup promise was solidified long before we were husbands or fathers, but fortunately our supportive wives allow us to feed into our addiction once every four years. Before I had ever attended a World Cup, life always revolved around a four-year timeline – either building up to or coming out of the tournament. At the end of each unbearable four-year interval, I am rewarded with four weeks of joy and excitement. As an American, I recognize that most do not mind waiting. In fact, most are unaware that the World Cup is even underway, at least until the final stages.
Most Americans support several teams across multiple sports and have a dog in every fight. There is always another “big game” right around the corner: Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, March Madness, World Series, etc. But I only support one team wholeheartedly, and the “big game” comes every four years. Or in this case, eight years. I’ve spent my entire life watching the U.S. national team, cheering for them, traveling the world to see them – I’ve even played with most of them.
This Copa will be much different for me, as the U.S. did not qualify, for the first time since 1990. A perfect storm of events knocked the U.S. out of contention and pushed Panama, who we had just beaten 4-0, through to the finals. It was a devastating result and a well-deserved wakeup call for American soccer fans and players alike.
But my love for the game runs deeper than the U.S national team, which is why we’re still going to Russia. While eating and drinking our way around Eastern Europe, we will immerse ourselves in five tournament matches, play pickup soccer with the residents, jam with local musicians, and spend time contributing to underprivileged youth soccer clubs.
The low-scoring nature of the game is difficult for most Americans to appreciate, but the experience of watching your team compete at the highest level is unparalleled. What’s even more enchanting about the “beautiful game” is how it brings people together. Regardless of where a country or an individual stands politically, economically, or religiously – during the World Cup, none of that seems to matter. It’s all about the football. Where there might be political unrest, conflict or injustice in their homeland, we hug each other and exchange flags in a gesture of love, sportsmanship and unity. I’ll never forget when we were at the France vs. Brazil quarter-final in Frankfurt, where I showed my support in a French jersey. After Brazil lost 1-0, a supporter approached me and wrapped a Brazilian flag around my shoulders. He said, “You earned this. Congratulations and good luck.” With tears running down his face, he hugged me, and just walked away. Although I’m not French, this demonstrated the universal sportsmanship and appreciation for the competition.
On June 14, the world is again unified through one sport, on one stage, for one month. As I like to reiterate every four years, there are some important etiquette factors which are important for all supporters to remember:
1. Everybody has earned the right to be there, players and fans alike. Each national team fought through the grueling qualifying rounds for the right to compete, and their supporters have earned the right to celebrate. Everybody is supporting the same cause, regardless of what color their jersey is.
2. Be grateful to the host nation for allowing us into their beautiful country. Thank them for it.
3. Leave every place better than you found it. Take only pictures. Leave only footprints.
4. Show respect to other nations – especially when it’s their time to cheer, support and celebrate. Never disrespect another team’s national anthem.
5. We don’t have to be a good loser, but we can be a good sport. If our team loses a game, we may be upset but sportsmanship and understanding are paramount. This is not about hating the enemy as if it were the Yankees vs. Red Sox. If our team loses, we approach the opposition, give them a hug and say, “Well done, thank you and congratulations.”
Each time we return from these trips, it’s always exciting to see the United States in an absolute buzz over soccer. Although the USA is not playing in the World Cup this year, my hope is that our country will still watch, engage and support the tournament.
As for Qatar in 2022 … we’ll talk about that later.
John Jarvie is vice president of Oversea Yacht Insurance in Fort Lauderdale. Contact him at email@example.com. Comments on this essay are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.