Missing from soccer: heart

by Ivan Bobanovic | Last updated

Is it just me or is it harder and harder to get truly interested in modern day professional sports? Maybe it has something to do with the phoniness of owners and managers who don’t really care to create a winning franchise for all the right reasons.  Maybe it’s the hypocrisy of the professional leagues themselves that force players to do whatever it takes to win, but they are the first to point the finger when a player is being accused of using enhancement tools, i.e. steroids.  Maybe it’s the deceptiveness of players who preach about fans being everything to them, but will betray those exact same fans for another zero on the end of their contract.  Or maybe, it’s all three…

Whether you analyze soccer in Europe, basketball in America or rugby in Australia, all these leagues/sports seem to be suffering from the same symptoms.  The reason for the mess that has ensued is due to money.  It doesn’t bother me, necessarily, that many of these leagues and sports are run like a business; what bothers me is that amount of money involved.  Because of the money involved (to give you an idea of just one example, the New York Yankees franchise is worth $1.3 billion USD), these teams and leagues have become personal play-pens for wealthy tycoons who don’t necessarily have the best interest of the fans, teams and franchises at heart. This can best be exemplified with the MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment) – owner of the Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto FC – where having ownership in the MLSE is more important than actually doing something with that money to instigate positive change.

The only sporting events that truly grasp my interest are the European Cup (soccer) World Cup (soccer) and the Olympics (both summer and winter).  Why?  Because those are the only sporting events on earth that aren’t fueled by the interests of the greedy dollar.  The fuel for these athletes is the honour of representing your country and being in the presence of your fans who are just as happy to show their pride in what is theirs.

This past soccer European Cup (2006) showed what it is to have heart.  Every game my nation, Croatia, would play in, I would get together with the rest of my Croatian community (we are based in Ontario Canada) to anxiously watch games hoping we could advance to the next round.  Many of the games would attract friends and others who weren’t even interested in soccer but felt the passion in which we followed our team with.  These people didn’t care for soccer, but the beauty of the moment attracted them.  They would sing, chant and cheer just as enthusiastically as the next person.

I thought to myself, why were people who couldn’t care less about the sport of soccer watching/cheering with such emotion?

Watching these games, one thing became apparent to me quickly: the players on the field played with such raw emotion, while the fans all over the world matched that emotion with chants and songs from the heart, that it was impossible not to get excited.  Try and understand a sense for the emotion on the field for just one of the games Croatia played in.  Note: the song in the background was written in support of the Croatian team for the Euro Cup.

The beauty of this event is that even the poorest of nations can participate.  All you need are a jersey, shoes, shin pads and a ball….so simple, so beautiful.  The country and its fans feel as though they are part of the team on the field, while the players on the field feel as though they are one with the fans an the country.

Even though soccer is still associated with the scandals such as diving, match fixing and etc, the World Cup and European Cup seem to put all those talks to rest as every player and every team wear their heart on their sleeve for these events.

These events, along with the Olympics, are the only events on earth that still have that magical feel associated to them.  It’s more about heart than anything else.  I don’t know how, but we need to bring more heart into the world of professional sports.

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