But for our sports you tend to need paraphernalia: for hockey, you need ice, pucks, sticks, equipment and, in much of the world, buildings; for football, a larger, smoother, soft field; for basketball, a hoop on a stand and a hard, smooth surface; for baseball, a ball, a bat and bases. It’s just not as easy as soccer. Which, it seems to me, is why soccer is much more easily embraced in developing countries. And, ease of embrace by kids, surely, is the most significant factor in its popularity and growth.
It’s not only the complexity of the equipment and field requirements, though. It’s the complexity of the rules. North Americans tend to thrive on ever-increasing rules complexity while the rest of the world thrives on simplicity (though, I do admit, the offside rule in soccer is as baffling as the US political system.) Football is the clearest example, though hockey and basketball seem to be getting increasingly complex, as well.
But here’s the contrast that really intrigues me and makes me ponder whether it expresses deeper societal values, and that is the meticulous precision of the application of rules and procedures. Consider penalties. In Soccer, it’s a yellow card, or a red card, and they’re shown at the discretion of the one referee. In football, by contrast, there are dozens of different infractions, adjudicated by about seven different officials, even though there are about the same number of players on the field. In hockey, the list seems to grow and become ever more precisely defined. And in baseball, an official is required at every base.
There are endless reviews of infractions and scoring plays, especially in hockey and football, but only minimally so in soccer. In North America, you simply have to make sure to get it absolutely accurate! The rest of the world seems more relaxed about officials’ discretion.
Then there is the precision of timing. In hockey and basketball, tenths of seconds will be reviewed. In soccer, should there have been too much delay during the game, several minutes will be added to the playing time, the smallest increment being a full minute, and that is only a minimum; the referee will ultimately decide when to end the game. And, it’s considered fair (enough).
When it comes to our sports, maximum complexity, exactitude, strategic planning, and highly technical adjudication, with their accepted interruptions, seem to govern the American psyche. By contrast, simplicity, fluidity, indistinctness, and discretion mark much of the rest of the world?
I wonder: Does that contrast between our most popular sports reflect something larger about our world views and societal values?
Sometimes I think it does. What do you think?