O Jogo Bonito: The Beautiful Game of Soccer (aka Football) and Yes, Bicycling

Back on February 5, I wrote a post titled “What the Super Bowl Can Teach Us About Sports Cycle-ology”The quadrennial soccer / football spectacle that is the month-long World Cup began June 14th, which very many people who are not living in a cave know.  After watching all 14 games over the last five days, I’ve been thinking about the lessons soccer aka football can teach bicyclists.  (I’m from the US, so I’ll call it soccer.)

THIS POST IS SPOILER FREE IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN ALL THE FIRST 15 GAMES! 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

world cup
Credit: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters Source:  New York Times

The FIFA World Cup is a huge event watched by billions of people worldwide every four years.  With the United States Men’s National Team not qualifying this year, many casual US soccer fans may not be among the watchers.  This may be especially true since the games being in Russia and on US time during the standard work day.  But being sans portfolio, a former youth and young adult soccer player, and someone who does not watch professional soccer the other three years and 11 months, I am watching.  And the first days have not been a disappointment.

Ranging from boredom, frustration and missed opportunities to amazing feats of athleticism, anger and tears of joy, this tournament has had it all so far — and there are still 50 games left!  You never know what’s going to happen; games and the fates of teams and individual players can turn in an instant.  That’s because a goal in soccer is pretty hard to score.  Your team may have 11 people trying like hell to put one into the back of the net, but the other team has 11 people just as intent on stopping you and scoring for themselves.  This results in all kinds of things happening on and off the field.

Soccer can get ugly.  Fouls, faked injuries, real injuries, insults, fights, bloody noses, concussions — these have all happened.  But legendary Brazilian player Pele was right that it is a jogo bonito – the beautiful game.  That’s because of many things, but for me, the international aspect of it is one of the most amazing things.  From players of different religions, cultures, countries and languages joining forces as teams, to fans from opposing sides sharing in the experience, and the brief moments of a large number of humans on Planet Earth joined together focusing on one thing, it’s like the United Nations of sporting events.  Yes, I know the U.N. isn’t perfect, but neither are you and I.

England 2018 world cup team
England has traditionally had almost all white players. Not anymore.

Due to the fans and changing player rosters, there is a great deal of internationalism and multiculturalism in soccer.  Along with that and in many Western countries where equality of the sexes (although women’s soccer is not as well watched or pays players as much), there is also acceptance of other and no religions, gay /lesbian /bisexual /transgender /non-binary people.  In some countries where soccer is very popular, these values are not universally accepted, or accepted at all (yes, I’m looking at you, orthodox religions).

 

The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will feature 32 soccer teams from around the world. But just because a team represents a country doesn’t mean all its players were born there. Family heritage and dual citizenship are factors that players consider when choosing which country to represent. Of the 32 teams, 25 of them fielded at least one foreign-­born player during qualification for the world’s most watched single-sport tournament. — National Geographic article, See Which World Cup Teams Have the Most Foreign-Born Players”

I’m sure there are plenty of difficulties by having players from all over the world on one team.  But at least for a few moments in soccer, we see the possibilities of humanity cooperating instead of killing each other.  It is writ large for the world to see on Jumbotrons, the internet, and just everywhere.  We’re all just people, playing our guts out, or cheering on the players in the world’s most popular game.

What’s That Got to Do With Cycling, Dude?

In soccer, teamwork is clear:  passing the ball, assists on goals, the endless back and forth in search of a goal, which is scoring a goal, and generally yelling when someone’s fouled and hugging when someone scores.  Both take incredible concentration, effort, sweat, and cardio.

Ever see the Tour de France or other professional cycling race?  It’s a ton of individual effort, but it’s in tandem (bike pun intended) with team members.  In cycling, it’s less obvious, but teamwork is still there:  the guy blocking the wind as the leader rides up the mountain behind him, the handing off of food and drink, and going on breakaways, or chasing down breakaways from the peloton.

In both sports, there is a ton of behind the scenes people:  the manager, coaches, mechanics, trainers, sports doctors and physical therapists, publicists, water boys and girls, equipment people, and on and on.  Even if you’re just A Dude riding his bike, there is your own team:  the mechanics, retail shop clerks, fellow riders, cyclists on Strava, friends and family, donors to your charity rides, and of course, let’s not forget the very important people who read your tiny little bike blog.

soccer-bicycle-kick-6527294 (2)
Source:  Dreamstime

But lastly, let’s not forget the bicycle kick!  You throw yourself backwards and kick the ball over your head.  It’s as if you were pedaling a bike.  Which you then fall off of onto your back.  I’ve done it, and it’s cool when it works.  But usually it doesn’t work, and you’ve still fallen on your Arse…nal is a great team from England!

 

Speaking of which, I actually haven’t watched the last game of today between England and Tunisia.  My point, if there really must be one, is this:  never play soccer while riding your bike.  Unless you’re really good, but that’s more like polo.  Never mind, I’m joking around.  Thus concludes today’s blog.  Yay soccer and yay bicycles!

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