Football fever


Football is the one truly global sport, the World Cup its biggest festival. Every four years, it serves up an intoxicating cocktail of nationalism and sport. Even non-partisans like us Indians lap it up, even though our national team, ranked 97th, has no hope of being part of this carnival in the foreseeable future. Over the next one month and 64 matches, the global community of football fans will be riveted to the action in Russia, which hosts the World Cup across 11 cities. The fans of the 32 teams participating in the World Cup would form the most passionate audience, but the TV audience is truly worldwide, running to billions. There will be no dearth of passion in non-participating countries. In fact, after the home fans, the highest number of match tickets has been lapped up by the Americans who are not participating. India is among the top 20 countries in ticket sales. Over one lakh fans from China, also not part of the tournament, have plans to visit Russia for the tournament.The tournament promises to be quite fascinating, especially because no team is a clear favourite. Defending champions Germany have recently been below-par; sentimental favourites Brazil seem to have recovered from the 7-1 hammering by Germany in the semifinals four years ago. Perennial favourites Argentina, runners-up in 2014, seem to overly depend on the magical Lionel Messi. Spain remains a force but are not as good as champions eight years ago. France and Colombia would fancy their chances as well. The winner will be from Europe or South America – only these two continents have always shared the World Cup trophy.Football’s governing body, FIFA, is regularly rocked by controversies. Its officials have been implicated in bribery and money-laundering scandals. This is not surprising because the organisation makes obscene amounts of money from the game – the 2014 World Cup netted it a profit of $2.6 billion. Such money has taken the soul out of the sport, say the critics. But the fans are not going anywhere: Even though club football often has superior quality, the World Cup remains the pinnacle of global football.


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