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Soccer and Nascar

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Soccer and Nascar

Last week at a break in a meeting, many people started discussing the World Cup. One of the people turned to me and asked which country I am supporting. I responded that I am not a fan of the “beautiful sport”, so I did not care who would eventually win. I told her that I was a Nascar enthusiast. At that point, the intellectual snob turned away to talk to someone more worthy.

Unlike hundreds of millions of sports fans who will be tuned in to television sets around the world to watch more soccer matches over the weekend, I look forward to the Toyota SaveMart 350 on Sunday. Will Denny Hamlin win his sixth race of the year? Will Jeff finally win a race this year? How about Montoya – will he get into a position to make the Chase?

For the unwashed, let me compare soccer and Nascar to show why the latter is much more interesting.

Both sports have their super stars who are exceptional athletes and extremely well paid.

Soccer is supposed to be a team sport. Yes, teams do compete; however, individual performances usually make the difference between a win and a loss. Nascar also is a team sport on two levels. On one level, several owners sponsor more than one driver. But drivers on the same team do not always cooperate in a race, and there have been some classic confrontations between team members this year. On another level, each driver is part of a team, which consists of engineers, mechanics, tire changers and others. Fueling a car, changing four tires and making numerous adjustments in 14 seconds can make the difference between a great outing and a mediocre one. Teamwork and strategy are critical. Oh yes, I forgot – what is the strategy in a soccer match?

A soccer match lasts a little over 90 minutes plus the half time break. Fans are reluctant to leave their seats during the game for “fear” that they might miss a shot on goal – they occur so infrequently – or worse yet, a goal. Thus far in the Wold Cup, goals have been more rare than a BP strategy that works. I am amazed how worked up fans can become over a game with six shots and no goals.

A Nascar race can last upwards of five hours. There is much repetition and some boredom. But 43 cars galloping towards the start line is one of the most exhilarating moments in sports. And at least until the last hour of a race, fans do not have to be concerned about missing a race-changing event, except for the “big one” at Tallahassee or Daytona. Fans can wander off and do other things periodically. But the last hour is often the most exciting in all sports. Anything can happen, and usually does, and almost anyone can win.

Soccer reinforces tribalism, never a good thing. Fans support a country, or a city, or a team within a city. Hooligans roam among the soccer fans, and fights are a common occurrence. English soccer fans were banned from matches on the continent for many years.

In Nascar, fans have their favorite drivers. Yet they do not resort to the tribalism common among soccer fans, and rarely do fights break out between Junior’s fans and Kyle’s fans for example. More often than not, fights break out between the drivers themselves. This is true competitive spirit. Not the fake flops one often sees on the soccer pitch, and the yellow cards handed out by incompetent referees to reward the acting.

In Nascar, if one driver wants to give another driver a lesson, he will bump him into the wall at 190 miles per hour, or spin his competitor into multiple airborne flips. What does a soccer player do – fakes a fall.

In Nascar, women can compete. Danica Patrick will soon be back behind the wheel of a car in a Nationwide Series event and then a Sprint Cup event. What is a woman’s role in soccer? To be a reporter to appeal to the testosterone of the male fans, or to be the “escort” of a super star. Where is the Danica of soccer?

Finally, soccer has not produced any significant technological break-through, unless one considers the new ball being used in this year’s World Cup as a leap in technology. In Nascar, technology enables drivers to survive horrific crashes at 190 miles per hour without a scratch. The technology does get transferred to passenger vehicles, saving lives and injuries.

So soccer fans, you can have your World Cup with all of its “excitement” and tribalism. Since there is no Sprint Cup race tomorrow, I will watch my grass grow instead. While almost as exciting as watching a soccer game, at least it is much more relaxing and I get to be outdoors on a beautiful summer day.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


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