The global reach of the Beautiful Game is something other sports can only dream of. It’s played in every corner of the planet, from state-of-art stadia to the dusty streets of the developing world. The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting event on earth with more than a billion people watching the Final - that’s way more than six times the audience of the Super Bowl. There’s no question: Football is king of the sporting world.
But not only does football provide entertainment worldwide - it brings us closer together and makes the world smaller. Visitors to Russia in 2018, Brazil in 2014 and South Africa in 2010, will never forget the welcome and warmth they received from their hosts. Preconceptions disappear when people come together and the understanding of other cultures is elevated. Football brings us together and forms bonds beyond borders.
And away from from the giants of the game and the riches they recieve, football means so much even in countries who have never made it to the Finals. Football is the biggest sport in Thailand, for instance, where they host fiercely competitive leagues, have their own ‘Clasico’ and in the Wild Boars, have probably the most famous boys’ team in the world, after their incredible cave rescue.
Football brings joy and togetherness, but it also lets us all dream of glory. No matter where you are from, you can be greatest. No matter what country you’re born in, the World Cup can be a part of your life.
Football is also the biggest sport in Romania, where the connections between football and the Romanian people run deep. Peter L Laszlo of Babeş-Bolyai University, in his research paper Soccerology: Football and Society in Romania reports that football has become a social rite, a place where serious questions and issues are raised, long before they become part of the national conversation. It is more than just a simple game, he says. It is a reflection of the country, its concerns and issues.
Football has developed a huge following in China too, where large investments have attracted big name players like Didier Drogba, Carlos Tevez and Oscar. While players of high quality are turning out in the Chinese Super League, a stunning 815 million viewers from China tuned in to see some of the World Cup in Russia. China represents the English Premier League’s biggest overseas broadcasting sale too. All eyes are on the People’s Republic and how its vast and growing fan base will affect the future of the game.
The next World Cup takes place in Qatar, taking us to the Middle East for the first time. The following World Cup, in 2026 and hosted by North America, will see the Finals expanded to include 48 teams, making certain there will be some newcomers to the tournament. Who knows, maybe China will be there? Maybe Thailand. Maybe even India.
Football is huge in India also - a country better known for its formidable cricket team but one that has struggled to develop a strong football presence on the world stage. The World Cup was massively popular there though, with people choosing a country to support, an idea that separates the whole idea of nationalism from countries. Why not support a country, like you might a football club? A choice, not a place of birth. If you admire the football they play, their skill and their spirit, why not take them to your heart? It unifies people in support and gives them a stake in the biggest global competition of them all.
All over the world, football impacts on the economies of the countries it touches. World Cup Finals used to be the preserve of the most developed nations, but that has changed. Hosting a World Cup ensures a massive influx of investment in infrastructure. When South Africa hosted in 2010, billions was spent on stadia, transport and telecommunications. National pride soared and the country’s standing in the world boosted. Thousands of jobs were created in construction and hospitality.
And all around the world, from England to Zimbabwe, the World Cup is a month long festival of both football and togetherness. People gather to watch matches, businesses attract more custom and world of work takes a back seat to recreation.
The wait for the next one is filled with, of course, more football at local levels, arguably the most passionate audience of all.