According to the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, more people play soccer in the United States than in any other country. That means folks officially enrolled in a soccer program, on a team, or playing it at school. In 2008, more than 18 million people in the U.S. officially played soccer, and it’s our nation’s fastest-growing team sport.
Considering these statistics it’s interesting that so few team sports fans choose soccer when it comes to picking a spectator sport. Soccer moms lining the field notwithstanding, far more folks watch American football or baseball than watch soccer.
But it seemed that this year’s World Cup might change that. In our first match when we tied the Brits, we shocked the world with our talent and it looked as though soccer might pique the interests of more traditional game enthusiasts. But it didn’t. This past winter, an estimated 106 million people in the U.S. watched the Super Bowl, and ESPN claims only 19.6 million viewers watched the U.S. lose its match last week to Ghana.
A third of us watched the Super Bowl while only a twelfth of us watched the tiny western African nation of Ghana whoop us 2-1. I love coincidence, and the fact that 6 percent of the U.S. was tuned in is totally cool. See, extrapolating population figures — and subject to slight change when the new census comes out — about 6 percent of our population was imported through Ghana.
Talk about poetic justice!
It’s called poetic justice because it’s not real justice but it’s a form of justice all the same; and little old Ghana showing us a thing or two about superiority using the beauty and healthy rivalry of competitive sports is sheer poetic justice. They dominated us without having to resort to whips or chains.
If you don’t know much about modern-day Ghana, join the club. I didn’t either, but it’s fascinating.
First of all, in your mind’s eye if you look at the continent of Africa you’ll see the southern part of the continent swing left and make about a 90-degree turn. On the underside of that western bulge are coastal countries and right about in the center of the coast is the Republic of Ghana.
Ghana was known as the colony Gold Coast until it gained independence from Britain in 1957. In colonial times it had many natural resources that drew Europeans to its land. Initially the vast gold mines drew Portuguese and Dutch traders there. But after the American colonies were established the region began producing something far more valuable than gold: slaves.
The slave trade began in the 16th century as a trickle and turned into a flood during the 17th century. In the 100 years between 1710 and 1810 — when the U.S. Congress outlawed the importation of slaves — an estimated 5,000 living human beings survived the passage across the Atlantic and made it to U.S. shores from Gold Coast each year. That’s half a million people in those hundred years alone. And from those slaves exported from Ghanaian shores nearly 6 percent of the U.S. now traces their lineage. You can learn more about the history of this slave trade at www.ghanaweb.com.
Today the U.S. is an amalgamation of folks descending from those forcibly settled here, descendants of willing immigrants, newcomers, and a slight smattering of indigenous people. Despite our diversity, or maybe because of it, our country is pretty different from Ghana.
The country is about the size of Oregon with a population not much larger than the number of distant family members they have here: about 22 million. Because AIDS ravages the population, the average life expectancy of a Ghanaian is 56.
Deforestation coupled with the continuing gold and diamond trade have caused upheavals in the once agrarian lifestyles of ordinary Ghanaians, and farmers migrate to the cities looking for work. Their democratic government, which for decades was marred by coups, has quieted into a smoothly transitioning parliamentary process. Their elections require a runoff so that no one wins without a majority of support.
As Americans slowly embrace the international sport of soccer, maybe we can better understand the nations with whom we share the planet and the people from around the world who have made us what we are.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@ hotmail.com.