Read on to learn more about the most popular sport on Earth.
Soccer traces its roots to medieval Britain. There, villagers often played a “folk football,” making up their own rules. The sport became especially popular at elite British universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, in the 19th century. In 1863, the English Football Association formalized how the game is played. Its rules prohibited players from touching the ball with their hands.
Throughout most of the world, what we know as “soccer” is called “football.” The “foot” part of the word was originally used to distinguish the sport from rugby, in which players are allowed to use their hands as well as kick the ball. The American game of football evolved from both soccer and rugby. The first American football game was played in 1869 between Rutgers University and Princeton University.
In the late 19th century, soccer spread throughout Europe. Through colonization and trade, Europeans introduced it all over the world. In 1904, European soccer leagues formed the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which oversees international professional soccer today. Soccer became popular in part because all that is needed is a ball. In poor countries, kids make balls out of anything they can— even rags.
FIFA organized the World Cup after the International Olympic Committee refused to include soccer in the 1932 Summer Olympics. The first World Cup was played in Uruguay in 1930. Teams from 13 countries competed. Uruguay beat Argentina 4-2 in the final. Brazil has won five World Cups, the most of any national team. Italy, in second place with four titles, defeated France in the 2006 final (see photo).
Teams that make it to the World Cup are the object of great national pride. In some countries, more than half the population watches their team’s World Cup matches on TV. Thousands of people gather before large public screens, and kids are let out of school early. In recent decades, fan violence has been a major problem for professional soccer. Hooliganism, as it is known, is common in parts of Europe and South America.
The first matches of World Cup 2010 will be played on June 11 in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. Thirty-two national teams—including South Africa’s (above)—will compete. They will play several rounds until the last two surviving teams meet each other in the final on July 11. No team from Africa has ever won the World Cup. This year South Africa, which is hosting the event, and five other African nations will be competing. Could this be Africa’s year?
1. Why do you think soccer is so popular around the world? 2. Why do South Africans have mixed feelings about hosting the World Cup? 3. How could the World Cup help foster greater cooperation among nations —or spark tensions?