Why you should care
The World Cup is close to perfect, but pregame cultural demonstrations would really be a cracker.
2022: Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar.
Four years after ushering a young England club to the 2018 World Cup, Raheem Sterling is back as a wily 27-year-old veteran. For years, Sterling was an English enigma, loved by some fans and loathed by others. He possessed the magic, but some fans criticized everything from his work ethic to his tattoos. But these days, Sterling is a U.K. darling. All thanks to his proficient footwork … as an English folk dancer.
Thirty minutes before England’s World Cup begins, there’s Sterling at midfield, decked out in a top hat and floral wreath, with bell pads on his shins. He skips and twirls, waving his handkerchief along to the accordions that fans have humming through the stands. Sterling’s teammates two-step alongside the striker, but he is clearly the best. And his willingness to embrace the English folk dance has not gone unnoticed by fans of the Three Lions.
“Morris dancers are a sure sign that things are about to get lit,” says Nick Jenner, a Bath-born Londoner and avid Three Lions supporter. “As sure as night follows day, a pint, or six, follows any event that Morris dancers descend upon.”
How’s that for a pregame?
The emotion and pride that accompanies the world’s most popular sporting event is impossible to deny, but we think mandatory pregame cultural demonstrations would really be a cracker. In addition to sending on-site supporters into a frenzy — and confusing the ever-living hell out of the opposing sides — World Cup viewers from around the world could use this bit of comedy to learn a little more about our neighbors. Just think, your favorite club could have its own rendition of the haka.
New Zealand’s soccer program (FIFA world ranking: 120th) might be modest, but the All Blacks pregame fireworks never fail. The haka — a traditional war cry from Maori culture — has become the famous pregame ritual for all New Zealand clubs. It’s a captivating display that rivals the actual game in energy. And we see no reason why every country shouldn’t get in on the action. Not every country’s demonstrations will send intimidated opponents retreating to the showers, but all are guaranteed to entertain and perhaps even inform the fans. If this is the first you’re hearing of Morris dancing, no problem. Sterling, Harry Kane and company will have you twirling sticks and swords in no time. Not one for dancing? Maybe baby jumping is more your style.
We hope the Spaniards bring more effort when they’re leaping over newborn infants than they did during their World Cup collapse this year. Yes, we promise, baby jumping is a real thing! Once a year in mid-June, just in time for World Cup season, Catholic and pagan rituals dating back to the 1600s come together in the form of a red- and yellow-masked “devil” running through the streets hurling insults at villagers. Black-clad pious men are brought on to eradicate the evil. The culmination: Dudes in costumes jump over a mattress full of babies that were born that year. A baptism of sorts. This might sound a bit over the edge, but let’s bring it to the world stage and let the people decide.
As for America, whenever the Red, White and Blue next make the World Cup, pregame lumberjack competitions should be a crowd pleaser. Or by 2022 perhaps a silent sit-in will be apropos.
And don’t even think about opting out. That will earn you a yellow card, sir. This way, fans can count on the multiplied enjoyment of watching their favorite — or, most hated — superstars compete on the pitch moments after squirming through a demonstration far outside their comfort zone. It’s said that the most profound breakthroughs are born out of discomfort. Let’s make the beautiful game even more vibrant by shining a light on wacky cultural traditions around the world.
Here are a few more to look forward to:
Iceland — the Skol chant. (Hint: The Minnesota Vikings stole it.) The most intimidating comparison to New Zealand’s haka.
Germany — Oktoberfest. Let’s seize the chance to make Jérôme Boateng wear lederhosen. Playing sober didn’t work for the Germans this year.
Brazil — the samba. Something tells me that Neymar practices this traditional dance in the mirror, alone, in his mansion.
Denmark — throwing cinnamon at single people. Eleven millionaire footballers douse each other in cinnamon. You’d watch.