I don't understand the World Cup, but many women do
You might be surprised to learn that this New Zealand guy doesn’t understand the first thing about sport. I’ve got the beard, the accent and the cravings for mince and cheese pies, but I honestly didn’t quite get it when everyone laughed at me for calling the sport the world is currently obsessed with “netball.”
If it wasn’t for our office’s resident Sports Guy corralling us all into entering the workplace World Cup competition, I truly wouldn’t have even known this huge event was coming up.
“You just need to guess a score for each game,” he said nonchalantly as he handed me a giant piece of paper with dozens upon dozens of country names and flags and empty spaces for me to somehow fill with magical numbers.
“What’s a realistic score?” I asked.
I didn’t really feel like explaining in detail how much I didn’t understand, so I played it cool and started trying to envisage numbers randomly in my mind as he waited for my entry form back.
The first two blank spots stared at me like two expectant eyes, and I could feel Sports Guy’s fixed on those two spots like a laser pointer, too. The whole office somehow switched to slow motion. You could have heard a pin drop.
My heart pounded as I scratched pencil to paper. 100 versus 119.
A strange sound at that moment exploded from Sports Guy that was somehow a mix between a gasp and a laugh and pure, unbridled shock.
That’s how I officially came out to the office as half a man.
Since then I’ve heard the World Cup banter day in and day out. People are passionate, amazingly passionate.
That’s when I started noticing all the memes online, mainly taking digs at certain countries who didn’t do so well. In a way, it is through those memes that I keep up with the big developments. One showed Germany’s Angela Merkel on the phone to Donald Trump. “Donald, let’s build that wall,” the text read. That’s literally how I knew not only that Mexico must have beaten Germany, but that they even had a game at all.
Some other memes I noticed centered around social dynamics that tend to always come to play when popular sports are involved. The main type: those memes where women are portrayed as clueless and ditzy.
It got me thinking a bit, which is something I don’t like to do often.
Our office seems to be feverishly following the World Cup. It’s all you hear about all day. You can check the freshly printed scores of the office competition every day pinned by the elevator, and we even have a dedicated World Cup WeChat group that I somehow managed to get added to.
After seeing those memes about women annoying their men during the World Cup and the ones comparing teams to lipstick brands, I decided to monitor our office sports fanatics in their natural, modern habitat: our WeChat group.
Just a few minutes of study had passed when it dawned on me: Women take part in the debates, the predictions, the ups and downs, and the back-and-forth of sport rituals just as much as the men in the group, and in some cases even more. Women take up many of the top spots in our office tally, the one I so miserably failed at.
“I can’t answer for all women,” one female colleague told me after I cornered her as part of my field study. “I play basketball and watch soccer and ice hockey, and many of my girlfriends are into sports, too.”
So why does women enjoying sports seem to irk some men, I asked her. “Some of them have this superiority complex when it comes to sport,” she said before the beginning of a wicked grin began to sprout: “After all, they feel inferior in many other ways!”
Then she made a great point, one that perhaps I myself, as an ardent anti-all-things-sport guy may do well to take into account. “Not everything is about feminism or being political – most people, men and women, see the World Cup as a great excuse to get together with friends and have some fun.”
So, what could I do to get more involved, especially since I literally understand nothing?
Just fake it, she said bluntly. “Loads of people fake an understanding of sports, even guys! I don’t mind at all, because at least they’re making an effort!”
I might just give that a shot!