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Is soccer the greatest sport ever invented?

It’s hard to truly estimate the population of those who play the sport. But, in 2007, FIFA did its best. The world body approximated roughly 265 million people actively play the sport. No doubt, soccer earns its reputation as the world’s game.

That number undoubtedly bounces up or down with time and trends. For example, in the United States, soccer is rising in popularity and participation. Young adults own an interest in soccer at higher rates than any other age group available. Additionally, soccer represents one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Compared to other major American sports, soccer is the third-most-popular sport to play for children aged 13 to 17.

Nothing needs to be said about the popularity of the world’s game elsewhere. The 2018 World Cup Final peaked at 1.1 billion viewers, averaging over 500 million throughout the contest.

There is a certain beauty to the game that makes it such a pleasure to watch and play. An argument can be made that soccer is, at its core, the best sport to grace the planet. The world’s game is not just something fun, it defines what makes the sport special.

Outside of the moniker, soccer’s characteristics and global reach define what makes it the greatest sport on Earth.

World’s game transcends cultures

Nationalism in sport happens in two instances. One is the Olympics, the ultimate competition of athleticism between countries. The other is through soccer. No other sport has competition between every continent like soccer.

The club level has certain aspects of nationalism, but international tournaments see entire countries support a 23-player squad of men or women.

Looking at recent renditions of the World Cup, teams representing nations in Africa, North America, Asia, South America and Europe all made deep runs into the tournament. Despite the fact that a European country won four-straight World Cups, international storylines dominate. There are always players from throughout the world that play the best in a given tournament.

Domestically, soccer is an outlet for fans to express themselves. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the temporary removal of fans from stadiums led to a profound impact on the experience of watching a game. Throughout the world, fans make the experience as special as it can be.

The one fault with soccer, which FIFA and the individual federations work to eliminate, is discrimination.

Racism, sexism and homophobia persist throughout the world, despite the more developed and progressive nations possessing more popular and profitable leagues.

While the discrimination rages, the world’s game acts as a way to combat the toxicity. The billions of fans worldwide work to recognize areas of issue in the game, and thus remove them to allow availibility to all who wish to play or watch the sport.

Different areas and nations may play or watch the game differently, but the aim of the game remains the same. The simple nature is also a contributing factor to what makes the game the best in the world.

Simplicity in sport

Some sports can get confusing with the different point values possible. Basketball has chances to score one, two or three points at once.

Other sports can score just once, but have certain rules to prevent that. Lacrosse has limits on the amount of people inside a certain zone. Hockey’s rapid changes make it hard to keep track of where players are and what positions they play.

The world’s game is both beautifully simple and complex. The aim of the game is to outscore your opponent. That’s it. No special equipment is required, outside of shin guards. The rules make sense, with offside being the only confusing one. Also, the introduction and development of video assistance does not simplify that facet of the game.

Regardless, soccer is easy to pick up for those who are unfamiliar with the sport.

Even with how simple the game is, modifications to the rules are seldom. Offside is always a topic of debate, golden goal made a brief appearance before being removed and video assistance is now at the forefront of discussion.

It is surprising to consider the intricacies of the sport knowing how simple it is. The multitude of formations that can be applied and switched throughout a game are numerous. Different managers from different nations employ strategies using players possessing their own special skill sets. Entire clubs devoted to a certain style because they like the way it looks. Tiki-Taka at Barcelona and the Samba flair in Brazil and Latin America.

All these players, coaches and styles of play exist within the same game. However, they create the world’s game through making one sport seem so different.

Opportunity for all

Plenty of sports are pay-to-play. Essentially, sports like hockey, golf or American football require high equipment expenses. With soccer, at least at young ages, all that is required is a ball.

Sure, it is nice to have a goal of some quality to shoot into or some fancy cleats to increase agility. However, when we look at poorer countries, soccer’s nature allows talent to show through.

Take any of the soccer icons to play the game. Diego Maradona played for a neighborhood team in Argentina before being discovered. Lionel Messi played for Newell’s Old Boys’ youth team before a scout saw his talents. As Zlatan Ibrahimovic described, “Pele became a champion without anything, he played with a ball made of rags.”

The wealth of players for the world’s game does not come from rich parents providing opportunities to their children. Instead, it comes from pure desire, and perhaps the hope of glory.

This contributes to the size of the game. In turn, the popularity provides levels of success and opportunity.

In each country, there is usually a top-tier professional league. Underneath that league, there are subdivisions and other competitions throughout an eight-month span each year. For example, in England, everyone wants to play in the Premier League, as it is the top division of the English pyramid. Beneath that, there are three professional leagues, and even more semi-professional leagues. Players can ascend through these ranks depending on their performances to reach the top.

Theoretically, a player and/or club could slowly rise from the bottom of any league system in the world, and make their way to the world stage.

There’s a beauty about that. It’s just one of the many things we love about The Beautiful Game.

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  1. NaBUru38

    October 6, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    I love several sports, including association football.
    However, it clearly a sport with too few goals.
    Yes I like the excitement of almost scoring.
    But in some matches have few goal opportunities at all.

    I would make the penalty box smaller, so the goalkeeper can’t catch the ball too far from the goal. And I would mandate three players to be on each side of the field, to open up the gameplay.

  2. WorldFootballTalk

    September 29, 2021 at 12:01 am

    With all due respect to other sports fans, Football is the most complete, beautiful and exciting sport in the world. If only FIFA were to simplify the football calendar and the many league or national tournaments/cups that are played then it will make things better for all football fans around the world. FIFA and the national leagues could still reap the benefit$ and the football leagues and national teams could live in harmony.

  3. dave

    September 27, 2021 at 10:02 pm

    @Kylefansler, I enjoyed this piece and agree soccer is a great game. As a fan of several other US sports, I especially like how a soccer game flows without commercials and with only limited stoppages for injuries, replays, and halftime
    Do you have support for the assertion that soccer is more “equal opportunity” than other sports in the US? I agree globally, but soccer in the US strikes me as like hockey where you have a big leg up if your parents have time and money to invest in your pursuit
    @Michelangelo, I agree with your thoughtful sentiment. Sports is a great unifier sometimes and national competitions in soccer can bring out the best. Even as a neutral, I love the anthems and seeing the pride in the players’ eyes and hearing the crowd sing along. Then a very few pre-game formalities and an exciting 90 minutes!

    • Kyle Fansler

      October 1, 2021 at 12:20 pm

      Hey Dave, I agree part of what makes soccer great for viewing is the lack of commercials. You’re right, soccer in the United States is one of those sports where it seems we only recognize the youth who come from families of wealth. The whole pay-to-play notion took away from the growth of the game originally. However, there are certain strides taken in the U.S. by the USSF, MLS and smaller clubs to grow the game more organically.

  4. Michelangelo

    September 26, 2021 at 10:16 am

    They don’t call the beautiful game for a reason. It’s a game that teaches us patience, value, hope, trust, honesty, loyalty, respect, passion, and honor. A sport played for thousands of years played in multiple countries with the entire world watching. It’s a common interest that brings people together just like this chat, nobody knows about each other’s lives or what happening but this game brings us together in a community that is driven to not only people that love the sport but is passionate and were creating a revolution for all humanity. There is no better feeling then seeing your team win, loose, or even draw draw. From your team entering the pitch to the final whistle is the greatest 90 minutes of your life. So sit back relax and enjoy history being made. Thank you all and Forza Calcio.

  5. rkujay

    September 26, 2021 at 7:37 am

    When my 40 something son started playing footy, we were told ‘soccer is the next big thing in America’. I chuckled, going to matches only to see parents yelling and screaming over a call the ref made. You see, footy wasn’t on tv in America, so the laws of the game weren’t common knowledge.
    Fast forward to late teen grandson, decades later. Same, same. Soccer will always be the next big thing in America.

  6. Jeff

    September 25, 2021 at 10:41 pm

    Your article is right on the money. I retired six years ago and found I enjoyed the early morning Premier League games here in the states. Since then the TV/Streaming options have exploded and now I enjoy all the major European leagues and plenty of other international competitions as well. One thing that is contributing to the soaring popularity of the game is the explosion of legal sports betting options. It seems every Premier League game is sponsored by one gaming site or another. Still, many games are exciting to watch and there are some fantastic personalities on the field, as well as behind the microphone. Some of the dialogue is priceless. Time to hit the sack. Premier League Mornings starts early.

  7. jason

    September 25, 2021 at 7:40 pm

    The wierdest rule in soccer is offsides. It won’t change at all, but I never liked it. Hockey’s version of offsides is better and simpler. But what can be done is offer some slack. The VAR is very hard on offsides. Close calls should always benefit the attacker.

    • Kyle Fansler

      October 1, 2021 at 12:24 pm

      Hi Jason. I could not agree more. It seems attackers can have a shoelace out of line and be called offside. There are actually a few examples of countries or leagues using VAR with some slack. the biggest example is the Dutch Eredvisie. There the referees have a 10cm “linesman’s call” to make it a little more up to interpretation. Definitely an interesting concept I’d like to see other leagues try.

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