Will World Cup excitement kick in?


April 22, 1992|By Sandra McKee

They came. They saw. They admired. But when it came to believing the 1994 World Cup would have any impact on the American soccer scene, they drew the line.

A group of international sports journalists who will cover the 1994 World Cup here recently toured the venues on the East and West coasts. The group had only good things to say about the stadiums in the United States.

"This is a soccer stadium!" said Patrick Barclay of the London Observer, as he walked onto the field at RFK Stadium.

But the idea of the premier event in the world's favorite sport being held in the United States left Keith Fisher, the London Daily Mail's sports editor, skeptical.

"I think it will be regarded as a novelty," he said. "But it will be interesting for us to see how America does it."

Fisher spoke of the love of the game in his country. He spoke of blustery mid-December days with freezing temperatures. He spoke of stadiums with inadequate toilets, inadequate eating facilities, inadequate seating and no parking.

"A desperately unhappy picture all around," he said. "Except there are always 40,000 fans in the stands cheering their heads off going potty. Most of Europe is like that. A fantastic scene."

It isn't the scene the 23 journalists from England, Switzerland, France, Spain, Brazil and Argentina expect in June 1994.

"The World Cup is all about money here," said Clive White, who covers soccer for the London Times. "I think the rest of the world is worried about whether they're going to convey the spirit of the World Cup. I think the rest of the world is concerned about the essence of the game. When there was talk about changing the rules just to make it more interesting to the Americans, people were horrified. I also think as we get nearer to it, people are beginning to think it will be a success. But still there is the question of whether you'll feel the passion. In Europe, whole cities close for the World Cup."

Perhaps the most supportive member of the press was Switzerland's Mario Widmer, who has covered soccer for 30 years and now writes for Blick. He described the World Cup's debut in America as "wonderful."

"I think America is the last important market in the world for soccer," he said, adding the English are set in their traditions and not receptive to change. "But there has to be change. You look at America with its big businesses and its television networks and you realize the United States could be one of the best soccer nations in the world. The only question is, will the World Cup be enough to get it started?"

Fisher says he doesn't believe it will. He says the 1994 World Cup will be presented as it never has been before. He believes it will have style, and that the Europeans who come will have the time of their lives.

But then he looked out the window of the bus that is taking him on a tour of Washington, he sees more than what is in front of him. He sees what isn't there.

"Soccer starts in the streets and alleys with kids kicking a ball, imitating their heroes," he said. "It starts when kids lay down their sweaters and use them as goal posts. You've got everything in this country. Everything to make soccer bigger and better.

" . . . But I think there will be little passion from the Americans who see the Cup. I think the sadness is you have no heroes here to link soccer to your country. The Americans have no history."

Fisher seemed genuinely sad about that, as if something important is being lost.

"The rest of the world can't be wrong," he said. "The rest of the world is so deeply rooted in the game. I've often wondered why it is taking America so long to accept it. Football, soccer, is a beautiful, beautiful game."

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