When I settled in the United States 36 years ago, I was already more of a sports fan than the average person. I had been a handball referee for 13 years and a football referee for almost 10 years, and I watched a lot of top games in both sports. Among many others sports, I particularly enjoyed icehockey. And when I came to the U.S., I continued this involvement. I was immediately roped in by the U.S. Team Handball Federation, where my experience was needed, and I signed up as a football referee in the leagues in the mid-Atlantic area. I was also happy to note that my arrival coincided with the start-up of the Washington Capitals in the NHL.
BUT, I also found it fascinating to get familiar with the top three American sports: baseball, basketball and (American) football. For me it was exciting to have a chance to see ‘real’ basketball, not the version that was available in Sweden. (International NBA broadcasts did not exist in those days). I also got hooked on American football (although I could never understand why it is called football…), and this remains my favorite among the three sports. I have to admit that, by comparison, my enthusiasm for baseball has never really grown, but part of the reason may be that I have never tried very hard to understand the fine details. In any case, my point is that these three sports, which were essentially new to me, were an interesting, [b]positive[/b] discovery!
During the World Cup in football (soccer) it has been nice to see the enthusiasm among people in this country and the enormous attention it has been given in the media. I wonder how many other countries in the world have been broadcasting all the 64 games live. But I know that much of the excitement will quickly abate, and that football will be a very modest topic in the sports pages and in the discussions among sports fans for the next 3 years and 11 months. What has made me think of the obstacles that handball encounters in the U.S., however, is the abundance of[b] negative [/b]reactions to football that have appeared on TV, in major newspapers and web sites, mixed in with the enthusiasm.
People have used very nasty words to comment on football, describing it as a boring and ridiculous sport that does not deserve attention and TV coverage. It has been said that it does not require many of the basic skills that make American sports so fascinating, and that there is far too little action. The fact that not many goals are scored in a typical game has been seen as evidence that football is a meaningless activity, and the fact that most games are allowed to finish without a winner is seen as laughable. It has been pointed out that other big countries such as India, China, Japan and Indonesia are not very big on football, so this is used as an alibi for the suggestion that the U.S. must resist football. In fact, I have seen comments essentially suggesting that involvement in soccer amounts to engaging in some kind of ‘un-American’ activity.
Over the years, I have heard similar, although perhaps not equally harsh, comments about [b]handball[/b]. People have wondered why it was necessary to come up with one more sport that involves moving a ball with your hands from one end of a court to the other, when we already have the beautiful game of basketball. Others have suggested that the game is too dainty, because it is not permitted to tackle an opponent or to tear the ball out of his/her hands. Then there are complaints about the lack of frequent time-outs, presumably as it removes the opportunity to go to the refrigerator or bathroom, whichever urge is the greater. And then people ask: ‘how could someone be so stupid to come up with a game where the court does not fit into a typical American high school gym’. Along the same lines: ‘why do you call it handball; don’t you know that there already exists a sport by that name (in the U.S)!?’
I am not unrealistic enough to believe that anything else will successfully compete for attention with the formidable combo of baseball, basketball and football. But would it be too much to ask for a little more tolerance and open-mindedness?? Here in America there is a lot of interest in things such as international food, music, movies; not to mention consumer products from all over the world, even foreign-made cars!!! So why does it have to be so awkward and even seemingly unpatriotic to broaden one’s horizons and get curious about a sport, for instance handball, that is NOT All-American??
I sometimes wonder if the lack of interest and tolerance is related to the fact that we Americans are used to winning in international competition in virtually all sports. So does this lead to a lack of interest in a sport where no gold medals are within sight and where we may be beaten by some ‘obscure’ country? Should this not instead, in the traditional American mindset, make us ‘roll up our sleeves’ and see it as a matter of prestige to catch up with those who have a head start on us in this Olympic sport!?