In the end France won the World Cup, as some predicted long ago, including me. But the interesting, illuminating thing about a World Cup tournament is what it reveals about us in Canada and the world at large. Some of it is predictable and some of it is surprising. It is an intense month, a gripping distraction, a drama that twirls and swerves and, in doing so, manages to illuminate so much.
Some of what it reveals is embarrassing. No, I’m not talking about those ceaseless commercials for Coca-Cola, which reveal that Coke drinkers invariably leave home during a soccer match to get more supplies and then miss the goal action. Who on earth would want to be identified with such idiocy?
What I mean is that the World Cup unsettles Canada. On Sunday, shortly after the final game ended, I overheard a very male conversation about the entire tournament. A guy who was happy, tipsy even, after watching the final was referred to in unkind terms as, well, an eccentric type foolishly distracted by the folderol. When he departed, conversation returned to the Blue Jays. Is it too much to extrapolate from that? Not really.
When it comes to soccer, we are so Anglo, so immersed in a Canadian smugness that blithely and intuitively attaches itself to England and simultaneously patronizes interest in soccer as a form of multiculturalism to be politely indulged. Thing is, soccer is another planet. They do things differently there.
Throughout this World Cup, the CBC remained obsessed with “diving” at the tournament and in soccer generally. A CBC radio station contacted me during the first week and invited me to discuss a “flopping chart” at the World Cup. You know, sneer at the worst divers and condemn it all. I declined, intemperately describing the proposal as moronic. Still, CBC Radio’s The Current did a lengthy segment on the topic.
This is smug Canadian media idiocy at its worst and spectacularly tone-deaf. It attempts to define soccer as “other,” as inauthentic and farcically theatrical rather than athleticism and skill. I mean, honestly – from the level of grave umbrage erupting over some play-acting at a handful of World Cup games, you’d think there were no floppers or divers in the NBA (there are a lot) or that nobody faked an injury in the NHL. You’d think that fist-fighting in hockey represented the essence of moral purity.
The other night, after England lost to Croatia in the semi-final, CBC TV’s The National devoted a segment to England’s pain. The gist was this – England’s successful run had united a country and put aside anxiety about Brexit. Croatia, a tiny country storming through to the World Cup final, was only mentioned in an acknowledgement of the score in the semi-final game. Poor old England, was the real gist.
The same Anglo-centric attitude was exemplified in TSN’s entirely male panel of experts with British accents. It was comical, really, the inherent snobbishness in that. Further, TSN inflicted the leering “babe-cam” footage on viewers for two weeks. The constant focus on comely women among the supporters was an embarrassment, a return to the bad old days. It was only after this newspaper pointed to the sexism in TSN’s game coverage, and a former CBC executive sent the commentary to FIFA’s Host Broadcasting Service, that the leering footage stopped.
At least we were spared the usual umbrage about the lack of video-replay technology in soccer. Usually, during a World Cup, there is high dudgeon about the game’s reliance on the human frailty of the referee. This time there was the Video Assistant Referee system. Not that it proved infallible. Anyone watching Sunday’s final could see the referee erred in awarding a penalty to France, even after he spent ages watching video footage. And even the former World Cup referee – English, of course – on TSN agreed it was an error.
In a Canadian context, this World Cup sorely missed Italy. There is an Italian population in every urban centre in Canada and their pleasure in soccer adds to the tournament. Also, lacking Italy meant that vast numbers of junior radio and TV reporters did not have Italian bars and restaurants to use as props for fan-culture coverage. In Toronto, the entire media seemed unaware that the team Toronto Croatia, founded in 1956, was in the mid-1970s the championship team for all of North America. There’s glorious history there, but largely ignored in the past few weeks. Pity about that.
It mattered, too, that we lacked non-English coverage of the World Cup on TV. Usually the channel TLN has World Cup games with Italian or Spanish coverage. Without that, soccer sinks to the merely Anglo-thing, which TSN’s coverage personifies.
Excuse this rant if you thoroughly enjoyed the World Cup without noting anything amiss. The World Cup is a walk on the wild side for Canada. The game and tournament defy analysis, as analysis applies to the usual sports consumed by the vast majority in Canada, week-in and week-out. This glorious game, incandescent in this confounding tournament just concluded, is the world’s game, not ours. But in eight years Canada will co-host a World Cup tournament. Respectfully, we need to be less Anglo about it by then.