Tag Archives: World Cup

Sister Act Wears Thin

By Jason Menard

“I’d rather have your sister.”

That’s it. Those five words (well, maybe five-and-a-half or six, depending on your view of contractions) were all it took to spark a sporting phenomenon that has spilled into popular culture!

You know what I’m talking about. I mean, if I say, ‘Hey, that guy was just Zidaned,’ you’ll get the reference.

Yes, Marco Materazzi finally came clean with the comment that set off France’s greatest player, tarnished a legacy, and probably contributed to the death of France’s World Cup aspirations. In a brief exchange, France’s Zinedine Zidane, frustrated with Materazzi’s apparent holding of his shirt said, “If you want, I’ll give you the jersey later.” To which Materazzi replied, “I’d rather have your sister.”

Boom. Head butt, red card, dashed hopes, and weeks of hand-wringing ensued. All for a playground-esque crack not worthy of a reaction, not to mention retaliation. One could only imagine what would have happened if Materazzi had broken out the “your mother wears army boots” crack – the bloodshed would have been intolerable.

Honestly, weren’t we all just hoping for a little more? Something meaty that would have justified the comments. Through an interpretation of Zidane’s reaction, I had expected that Materazzi had said something racist, profoundly repulsive, or some combination of the sorts, including the exhortation to perform some sort of physically impossible and self-mutilating feat.

But no. An affront to the honour of Zidane’s sister that could have been penned by a six-year-old child was enough to cause the to-that-time feel-good story of the World Cup to snap.

Now let’s be fair. Maybe that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Of course, given the nature of the insult, it has to be looked at as the curly, crazy straw that broke the camel’s back, but nonetheless. Maybe that was just one too many comments during a long and storied career. Maybe Materazzi just caught Zidane at the wrong time of day. Maybe Zinedine ate a bad burrito the night before and it just wasn’t sitting right.

But a head butt? For that comment? If Zidane’s legacy wasn’t tarnished before, it should be now. After all, let’s realize that not only did Zidane’s overreaction to such a mindlessly stupid comment cost him his participation in the greatest game on the sports’ greatest stage, but it can be argued that he may have scored a penalty kick that would have brought the World Cup trophy to Paris. It’s all hypothetical, as his continued presence may have meant nothing in the end and the Italian team would have won regardless, but we’ll never know – and the effects of his absence, both psychologically and physically, had to have an impact on the French squad.

Let me state that I’m not a proponent of colouring a player’s entire career based upon on negative event. People have a right to make mistakes, just as they have a right to redemption. But dashing a nation’s cherished football hopes because of a stupid comment about one’s sister? If anything, Materazzi should have been embarrassed that he couldn’t have come up with something better, instead of Zidane taking such great offense.

But here we are. And now an event that should never have happened is back in the news. People will debate whether Zidane was overreacting or protecting the honour of his sister. They will discuss the sportsmanship of trash talk and where its place is in the game. And no one will mention that similar acts of provocation will take place each and every day on schoolyards around the world. Only most kids will come up with a witty retort, not try to drive their skull through their protagonists’ chest.

The people I feel sorry for most now are the principals of our nation’s schools. I mean, how are they to keep order on the playground when a player of Zidane’s status can react in such a manner for such a minor provocation? In fact does this mean that getting “Zidaned” will become the next issue in the fight against bullying?

And just remember if you see Zidane in the street sometime, make sure you keep your kids away from him. After all, one little playground slip and he may snap.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

An Immunity to World Cup Fever

By Jason Menard

With the World Cup final upon us and dozens of games in the books, I can comfortably state one thing – soccer fever may be rampant, but try as I might, I appear to be immune to its effects.

I have watched several of the World Cup contests to date. Sorry, let me change that. I have attempted to watch several of the World Cup contests and I have been successful at enduring several consecutive minutes of action on a semi-regular basis.

Note I said enduring, not enjoying.

I have seen great feats of individual skill. I have viewed displays of dexterity and footwork that are so beyond my ability to perform that I stumbled off the couch just thinking about how they were done.

I have seen crisp and beautiful displays of passing and teamwork. I have witnessed elation and utter dejection.

And still I don’t care.

In addition to all of that, I’ve seen long stretches of nothing. Back and forth play in the midfield with nothing resembling a chance. I’ve heard announcers work themselves into an apoplectic lather praising a shot that ended up 13 rows in the stands. I’ve seen grown men drop to the ground like they were shot by a sniper, rolling around in apparent death throes after being gently brushed by an opposing defender.

It’s safe to say I’ve seen the best and the worst that soccer has to offer. And still it doesn’t move me.

The sad thing is that I really, really wanted to be affected by this sport. After all, this is not just a game – it’s a veritable religion for millions, if not billions, of people all around the world. There has to be a reason that this sport incites such a passion – I just can’t find it. Try as I might.

I have posed this question to others and, inevitably, I receive the answer, “Well, you’re Canadian.” This coming from second and third-generation Canadians themselves who suddenly have felt the tug of the motherland’s apron strings. Those same second and third-generation people are ignoring the travails of the Italian team and wrapping themselves in the red and white when Olympic hockey is on. But I digress.

Apparently soccer is a birthright and if you’re not born into the culture, then you can’t appreciate the sport. And there are two problems with that. One, I was somewhat born into the culture. My grandfather played soccer and was an avid fan. Secondly, if that truly is the case, then soccer has a huge marketing and branding problem and will probably never penetrate the North American market.

Successful sports continue to grow and attract new fans. The survival of a sport is based upon its appeal to a wide variety of sports enthusiasts. I wasn’t born into a football culture. I watched the CFL with varying degrees of interest, but I didn’t consider myself passionate about the sport. Now I do. I learned to love it. I quickly became enamoured with its intricacies and ground-level challenges. And, for a long-time hockey fan, I learned to love a sport played on grass almost as much as the one played on ice.

So why couldn’t I learn to love soccer? There’s no field on my birth certificate that indicates which sports I’m genetically or ethnically predisposed to, and I enjoy all sorts of sports – those that I was brought up with and those that I acquired a taste for later. So why is soccer different? Or are the fans simply elitist?

Even playing the sport doesn’t necessarily incite a long-term passion for the game. Since the 1970s we’ve heard how soccer is the Next Big Thing in Canada. Generations of Canadian youth have taken to the pitch to engage in a low-cost alternative to hockey and baseball. They’ve played the game and, by all rights, should be fans of the game on the professional level. But that’s just not the case. Most kids aren’t watching Premier League soccer on their off hours. They’re enamoured with the same sports: hockey, basketball, baseball, and football.

In the end, I’ll just have to face the fact that I’m not a soccer fan and never will be. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I still feel that there’s a big party out there – I just don’t understand what the celebration’s about.

Of course, every four years I’ll get another invitation to the party – but I don’t know how willing I’ll be to attend the festivities in the future.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Greatest Threat to National Unity

By Jason Menard

The greatest threat to National Unity doesn’t come from the Plains of Abraham or the Oil Sands of Alberta. No, the most divisive force our country faces comes once every four years.

That’s right, forget the Péquistes or those oil-rich Albertans, the cracks in our national mosaic widen each time the World Cup of Soccer rolls around. Those who are proud to call themselves Canadians every other day of their lives shun the Great White North each and every time the world’s best take to the pitch.

Already the rumblings have started. With the recent announcement of the brackets for the 2006 tournament in Germany, people have begun to scan the pools to see where their favourite squads are, and the gentle murmurs now will become a roar when June rolls around. And, although Canada doesn’t find itself in any bracket, not too many people seem to be too broken up about it.

When the World Cup comes about we cease to be a nation of hyphenated Canadians. We become a divided nation of displaced Italians, Brazilians, Portuguese, English, French, and Czechs. We cling tightly to the thinnest threads tying us back to whatever Old Country is taking the field. And we cheer with pride for their victories and lament each loss as a personal defeat.

All this for a sport that, in large part, we don’t really care about. North American soccer leagues struggle annually to attract fans. Club teams in cities across Canada play before almost empty stands, populated only by those whose familial obligations compel them to attend. Yet, schedules are changed, lives are rearranged, and World Cup soccer becomes must-see TV for those who normally wouldn’t know their Tottenham from smoked ham.

So why do many of us cast aside our Canadian identities the moment Italy versus Brazil shows up on the screen? Why, in cities small and large from east to west, do we find people waving other countries’ flags out the windows from their cars every four years? One reason is the fact that Canada’s national soccer program ranks behind such industrialized powerhouse nations such as Guinea, Qatar, and Albania. Before we get too down on ourselves, note that we would be slightly favoured in a match against Burkina Faso. Yes, when your team ranks 87 th in the world it’s hard to get stoked about the home side.

Since there’s no Canadian team to speak of on the global scene, soccer fans are forced to find other reasons for affiliation that extend beyond geography. As such, history becomes the defining factor. My wife, as French-Canadian as she comes, fiercely supports the boys from Brazil – all because of a two-year sojourn living and working in Brasilia.

Yet, for many of these national bandwagon-jumpers the allure of foreign dominance begins and ends with soccer. Rare is the flag-waving Italian-Canadian who will do the same when the field of play moves from the pitch to the ice. When it comes to a sport where we dominate, our national pride returns to the fore.

Which begs the question: are we a nation of front-runners, flipping affiliations depending on which way the victorious wind blows? Are we emotional mercenaries looking to back the winning side so that we’re certain to savour the fruits of victory?

Honestly, we’ll never know until Canada is able to field a national team that can kick its way out of a wet paper bag. Currently a national joke amongst those who cherish the sport, what would happen if we fielded a squad in which we could take pride? And what about if we were ever to ascend to the favourite status? Would those national affiliations continue to fall along the lines to which we’re currently accustomed?

Or would geography trump history? Would the people and nation we are now finally outweigh any ancestral ties we may cling to? Would Canadian soccer fans resemble their hockey brethren on an international stage? We may never know.

I’m a Canadian with both English and French heritage. And, more importantly, I don’t really consider myself a soccer fan. I’m not a weekend warrior watching the feeds from overseas during Championship League play. Yet, I can appreciate the grace and skill of high-level soccer played by elite athletes. I don’t live and die with any win or loss, nor do I have a favourite side in any match. Without the binding nature of ancestral tethers, I’m free to enjoy the games purely for their displays of athleticism and talent – but with no emotional attachment.

Well, at least until Canada fields a team. And, for me at least, I know where my heart will lie.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved