Every time the World Cup rolls around, millions of people can’t seem to be able to talk about anything else, while a similar number is just baffled by the whole thing.
So, what’s the attraction of the World Cup? Evolutionary psychologists might point to the fact that, throughout most of our past as a species, we lived in small tribal societies. In this context, small-scale tribal warfare was a frequent occurrence. It was not just a battle for resources, but also a way for young men to come of age, and for young women to choose their potential mates on the basis of their physical prowess. In recent generations, women’s sports have gone from strength to strength, but they still fail to attract the same level of attention and devotion as that shown by fans of sports such as male soccer, testifying to the notion that an interest in observing feats of male strength is a deeply rooted instinctive behaviour.
Although the societies that we live in today are, for the most part, very different to the small tribal societies of the past, many of the instincts we still experience are much the same. Modern history is replete with wars and other forms of violence that seem to replicate the behaviours of tribal societies, but with much more devastating outcomes, because today we have recourse to modern technology.
Sport, and in particular team sport, offers us a way to express instincts associated with collective identity and idealised forms of masculine strength without actually resorting to violence, beyond the ritualised encounters on the field. By following our national team, we can express feelings of identity without going to war—and ideally, without falling prey to less positive aspects of these feelings, such as jingoism and racism. At its best, an event like the World Cup is a harmless way to express national pride, while also enjoying the spectacle of sporting prowess. It also provides fans with the opportunity to travel the world to support their team and—ideally—to engage with supporters of other teams in a positive and mutually appreciative way.
While football fans used to have a bad reputation for engaging in wanton acts of violence, despite the occasional flurry of bad behaviour, in recent years the trend has been for football matches to be peaceful events, at which fans can express their strong emotions for the game, and the outcome, without resorting to violence. Whether our team wins, or whether it loses, we can all be winners when it comes to channelling our interest for sports in a useful and life-affirming way. That might be something to remember when the 2018 final takes place!
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Why Does the World Cup Matter so much, Anyway? was last modified: January 7th, 2021 by Private Therapy Clinic
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