17 June, 2010

All you need is a ball

As the bus rolled toward Elaziğ, my seatmates made sporadic conversation, but there was at last time to reflect, to read. Since January, i've toted one of UMaine OIP's study abroad magazines, waiting for the right moment to read it. Fresh from meeting many ESL teachers in Iraqi Kurdistan, it was strangely appropriate to read about teaching English abroad. The rewards and challenges already resonated.

On the bus's two television screens, Switzerland battled it out with Spain in the World Cup preliminaries. Outside, on a small dry grass pitch beside the  Elaziğ wheatfields, schoolboys did the same.

The difference between American sport culture and global sport culture is a frequent topic of casual bus conversation. Why do Americans prefer baseball, basketball, and (American) football, while the rest of the world loves futbol with a passion? The nearest i can tell, there are two answers. One lies in the global influence of British culture -  at the turn of the 20th century when "soccer" spread, felt keenly many places except the U.S.A..

A more important reason, i think, can be found in the infrastructure Americans take for granted. Though our national games can be played without specialized gear, most often they need at least a bit. A basketball net. A bat, gloves, enough space not to break windows. The secret to futbol's global reach is the fact that anywhere - on a beach, in a dirt lot, a shorn wheatfield, a cement schoolyard, even in the middle of Istanbul side streets, or in the most bare-bones poverty - all you need is a ball.  All you need is a ball, and you can dream of being the next Alex, the next Cristiano Ronaldo, the next Beckham.