U.S. soccer, fans example of what soccer should be | VailDaily.com
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U.S. soccer, fans example of what soccer should be

Ian Cropp
Daily file photo Ian CroppCroppaganda
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OK, so maybe most Americans don’t know that Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are two different soccer players. But at least we respect soccer players for their performance on the field, and more importantly, for who they are.Sadly, the same can’t be said about some European soccer fanatics.Fans in Zaragoza, Spain, know who Barcelona player Samuel Eto’o is (African soccer player of the year from 2003-2005). Too bad the fans couldn’t recognize his skill in late February when they taunted Eto’o with racial remarks and monkey noises.Oh, and it’s not just limited to fans. Spain’s coach, Luis Aragones, made racial remarks about French player Thierry Henry in 2004. There have been numerous instances of racial and anti-Semitic instances in soccer this past year.And yes, even American players have been victims of persecution on the field. Oguchi Onyewu has been punched in the face. DaMarcus Beasley has heard plenty of taunts. And Cory Gibbs said there are places in Germany where he’s not welcome because of his skin color.

Criticize the United States all you want when it comes to soccer. Maybe the MLS isn’t on par with the German Bundesliga. Maybe our players aren’t on teams that win the Champions League. (Oh, by the way, we are ranked No. 5 by FIFA, so it’s not like we don’t have the talent.) At least we support athletes no matter what race, creed or ethnicity they may be.Change of venueAs rich as the soccer tradition may be in some of these European countries, I don’t think they deserve to host a World Cup if their fans can’t respect the athletes of the sport.I hear a lot of talk about how a World Cup will stop wars and ethnic conflicts within a country. If this is so, why can’t the World Cup be hosted by a country like Ghana or the Ivory Coast, where this year’s World Cup is just about the only welcome respite from internal turmoil. And while some argue that the countries can’t be at fault for the action of a small group of fans, I think the issue sheds light on a larger problem. Many of these countries are experiencing an influx of immigrants, and the hooligan backlash reflects a direct correlation to the nationalist currents. I’m not saying that the United States is perfect. But I think we channel our energy at sporting events in a different way.

Baseball was for a long time a racist organization. But when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, it helped usher in changes in different realms of American life. And yea, black baseball players endured racial remarks, but I think that era is long gone. Hating the Yankees?It’s obvious that sports fans have an undying fervor for their teams, but that doesn’t mean they have to have a hatred of the opposition. Yes, I do hate the New York Yankees on a certain level. I love to see them lose. Yeah, I’ll despise any player on any team that beats my team, but that’s only because I love my team. But no matter how much I can’t stand it when Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez hit a homer off a Red Sox pitcher, I do have respect for them as ballplayers and people. I think Hideki Matsui is a world-class ballplayer, and I’m glad he, along with other Japanese players, are able to come raise the level of play in the major leagues.I don’t think there will be any incidents of racism in the World Cup, due in part to the heightened security measures (which include prohibiting known hooligans from entering Germany).

But I’m more concerned with what happens during league play in the Ukraine, Italy and Holland, where fans been more concerned with displaying Nazi and fascist symbols and racist chants than cheering for their team.I hope that the World Cup will help the world soccer community embrace the multi-culturalism of the world’s game. Maybe the next time Eto’o plays in Zaragoza, they’ll cheer him for his amazing skill, and maybe invite him to a local bar after the game. Last time I checked, that’s what makes soccer the most popular sport on the globe. Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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