World Cup – A Social Commentary

Why do soccer fans root for the teams they do?

The World Cup offers a unique platform to witness the world sharing a common stage.  Yes, there is the Olympics, but the passion related to World Cup soccer sets it apart.  I appreciate soccer but would not be accused of being a fan.  As such, I observe the World Cup without the emotion reserved for its fans.  In terms of helping address the opening question, “Why do soccer fans root for the teams they do?” here’s what I’ve observed:

Fans choose teams to root for a whole host of reasons; from the legitimate to the fickle (you decide which is which).  World Cup fans appear to root for a specific team because of:

National Pride

Family Heritage

Shared Culture

Shared Language

Shared Race

Geo-political Factors

Like the Colors

Like the food

Like the beer

Like the women/men

For me, the national pride and family heritage make sense.  Those who resort to a preferred beverage or some other trivial reason makes less sense, but they’re having fun, so who cares.  My particular interest is to understand the motivation of those who choose a team based on race and culture, specifically when they possess more than one race and/or culture.

As a self-proclaimed bicultural, biracial observer, I find it curious that most my Hispanic friends are claiming Spain on the eve of the final match against the Netherlands.  Yes, I understand that Spain is a valid common denominator for Spanish-speaking people the world over.  However, the generational degrees of separation between many Hispanics in Latin America (and U.S. Hispanics) and Spain can be considerable.  If degrees of separation do not matter, then what of those same Latin Americans who can trace at least part of their ancestry to other countries, specifically Africa?  Would they have supported Ghana or any other African country had they made the final?  After all, you do know those dark-skinned players on Latin American teams are not just very tanned white guys, right?

And oh yeah, ¡Viva España!

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11 comments

  1. I have been looking forward to seeing a post on this topic. I plan to share it with my husband, father and many friends & family who
    are avid football fans. I will say that I think you neglected to list one very important reason why people support teams – their respect and admiration of the quality of the football played. Germany, Brazil and England for example all utilize different formations, styles, tactics.
    I’ll leave to the experts to explain this in detail. I will say that I feel that true lovers of the game don’t just watch to support their respective “team/country” of preference. They also watch because they would like to witness exceptional skills and the game of football being played at the highest level. Hence, their desire to continue watching the games even if “their team” is not on the field.

    1. Hi Lori-Ann,

      Thank you for publicly contributing to Born Bicultural USA (you’ve been a behind-the-scenes consultant for a while).

      For me, the biggest qualifier in your post is when you wrote: “…true lovers of the game don’t just watch to support their ‘team/country’…” All sports have purists or ”true lovers of the game” as you call them. Those will watch their sport regardless of who is playing. I appreciate the purists. They are not the target of my inquiry.

      I am probing for the motivation of those who suddenly feel a sense to publicly display a pride in countries that have multiple degrees of separation from their own experience. Perhaps it’s a desire to belong. Perhaps it is a desire to associate oneself with a winner. Perhaps it is legitimate pride in heritage, even if several generations removed. In the end, it may just be good ole fashion band-wagon jumping (jump on when there’s winning, get lost when there’s not).

      In any event, I again thank you for stopping by and look fwd to your future contributions on this forum.

      Best regards,

      Alberto Padron
      Born Bicultural USA

  2. As a fan of soccer, I can speak of my own experience.I was born in Ecuador but of Diplomats, and all my early childhood memories are of BRASIL. From my earliest memories futbol has been a part of my life, even being in my dad’s arms watching BRASIL beat Italy in Mexico for the 3rd world cup they won.

    I got to watch Pele play at Santos (his team if his career) and from an those early years I rooted (and still am very much a fan of) Palmeiras, that was the only team (72-74) to constantly beat Santos with Pele playing those Sunday matches.

    So my futbol experience is very emotional and close to the heart, feeling heartbreak when BRASIL could not beat Holland, a team that they always beat in the Cup.

    As far a Spain, I will root for them, but for us that lived in Latin America for an extended time, it’s incredible how close the countries are. Our biggest banks are Santander and BBV (Banco Bilbao Viscaya), our phones and mobiles are Telefonica and Movistar, and the musical and cultural exchange is huge. Returning a few days ago from the region the David Bisbal world cup song is played more than Shakira’s, and that is because we listen to Miguel Bose, Joao Manuel Serrat

    1. Hola Xavier,

      Thank you for your contribution to this discussion. You share very interesting insights based on your unique life story. You’ve done an excellent job highlighting relevant insights that are rooted in emotions born of experiences many of us could not fully appreciate.

      In terms of new knowledge, it escaped me that many of the business interests in Latin America have Spain-based ties. I can see where this economic connection gives way for some of the cultural exchange you note in your post. It is this sort understanding through sharing that is at the very heart of why I created Born Bicultural USA. Thanks again for stopping by. Born Bicultural USA looks forward to your future contributions.

      Salduos,

      Alberto Padron
      Born Bicultural USA

    1. Hola Adriana,

      Many of the topics on Born Bicultural USA tend to be serious. If not managed, they can get too serious. Thank you for your contribution and keeping dialogue light…don’t want it to get too heavy.

      Saludos amiga,

      Alberto Padron
      Born Bicultural USA

  3. “Would they have supported Ghana or any other African country had they made the final? After all, you do know those dark-skinned players on Latin American teams are not just very tanned white guys, right?”

    I loved this article. Thank you very much!

    1. Mia,

      Thank you for visiting Born Bicultural USA. I appreciate your kind words.

      By the way, I’m full of these zingers. Check in at your leisure. Born Bicultural USA looks fwd to your future contributions.

      Best regards,

      Alberto Padron
      Born Bicultural USA

  4. In my case the only team I follow with tremendous passion is my home team. If my team is not playing, quite honestly I don’t feel very vested in the outcome of the game.
    If I’m going to follow another country, the personality of the team is what plays the biggest role in making me root for them. A lot of fellow South Americans don’t like teams like Germany because they are colder… They are very precise, play amazing, but lack the chaotic passion that represent us. Even watching the way a coach celebrates a goal can be a turn off… if it’s too cold, if the players don’t sing the national anthem with love… all those factors affects how I see the team and relate to it.
    Given the choice, I would have rooted for Ghana over Spain even though I am of Spanish descent. Ghana played with a lot of heart and was an underdog fighting against all odds to make it to the final. Being that my country was also an underdog, I can relate to them more than to most European countries, which very often have a false sense of entitlement that can be quite a turn off.

  5. Hi Gaby,

    Thank you for checking in and depositing your much appreciated comments.

    Your perspective is unusual, in a very good way. Unfortunately, I have not heard your argument much. Instead, I get an earful on how someone’s great, great, great grandmother was the 3rd cousin of someone who may have been from the Basque region of Spain, and therefore their sudden passion for “La Furia Roja” is valid.

    I find your “personality alignment” argument much more authentic and much less pretentious. Much like the emotional reasons why folks devote themselves to brands, when you see yourself in that brand’s promise and personality, the more likely you will be to support it. I had not considered this angle Gaby. Thank you for bringing me and anyone else fortunate enough to read your entry, to this new, or at least not often considered, understanding.

    Saludos,

    Alberto Padron
    Born Bicultural USA

  6. Albert,
    I do think you have very good valid points. I tend to think there are many types of fans that exist.

    You have those that have that ancestry patriotism towards a team. You have fans who are a fan of the sport and do not use the ancestry card (i.e., I love Holland and though I may have ancestors somewhere from Spain, I went for Holland because I’ve always love how they play the game).

    Secondly, you have the bandwagoners that love winners but never support them during the qualifying games (i.e., a different sport but if living in Miami, the bandwagoner mecca of the US, everyone is now a heat fan or will in the finals). Lastly, the sad truth is that there is a racial aspect of what people support.

    Though there are different types of fans. The power of the world cup unites family, friends, and foes for a month to enjoy the game. A truly amazing thing to happen.

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