The world’s largest sporting event, the World Cup, launches today with 32 soccer teams and more than 700 players competing in 12 German cities over the next month. World Cup frenzy is so intense that the game has been credited with both starting and ending wars. The tournament is blamed for inciting the six-day Football War between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, and ESPN claims the Côte d’Ivoire team forced the antagonists in that country’s civil war to declare a truce during qualifying matches in 1995. Even wives and girlfriends of the players, facing a month of lonely evenings, have set up their own Web site.
Known as soccer in the U.S. and football in the rest of the world, the history of the modern game dates to the early 1800s when efforts were made to standardize the rules used by famous English public schools. The first World Cup competition evolved when the 1932 Olympics planning committee decided not to include soccer in the Los Angeles games due to its lack of popularity in the U.S. The Federation Internationale de Football Association, the sport’s governing body, thus decided to organize the first world championship in Uruguay in 1930. Thirteen countries participated seven from South America, four from Europe and two from North America.
This year’s World Cup boasts the largest number of first-time participants since 1930, as well as the only team from a non-existent country to compete. The Federation of Serbia and Montenegro team will play under a flag that no longer exists since the two nations recently split (2006 FIFA World Cup -- Wikipedia).
For more on the world’s most popular sport, check out:
Soccerhead: An Accidental Journey Into the Heart of the American Game by Jim Haner
White Angels: Beckham, Real Madrid and the New Football by John Carlin
How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globilization by Franklin Foer
National Pasttime: How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer by Stefan Szymanski
Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby