Workd Sport's U.S. Inroads
Global Fervor Over World Cup Play
Henry A. Kissinger, rock musician Elton John and more than one-quarter of the human race share a craze for a sport most of the world knows as “football” and Americans know as soccer. Soccer, invented and exported by the British in the 19th century, is now played in all corners of the world. There are 146 member nations in the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body for world soccer. And in mid-June, the world's best 24 national teams will kick off soccer's crowning event, the quadrennial World Cup competition.
Hundreds of thousands of soccer fans will descend on Spain, from nations as near as France and as far as New Zealand, for a month-long orgy of soccer that will culminate in the championship final in Madrid on July 11. Over a billion people are expected to watch the games on television. In most countries, there is virtually no event as unifying as the World Cup. When Argentina, a nation rent by civil strife, held the World Cup tournament in 1978, its people came together in a nationalistic frenzy that was intensified by the Argentine team's victory over Holland in the final game.
Until recently, the world's soccer madness had little impact on the United States. Americans, addicted to home-grown sports like baseball and basketball, had little interest in the “foreign” game, and soccer interest was basically confined to the ethnic enclaves of major cities. But within the past decade, soccer has boomed in America.