Soccerheads? | Bush says, ‘We’re beginning to understand’

from young women and their concerned families about various offers to work as waitresses, hostesses, advertising models, cooks and cleaning personnel at the World Cup. … [T]hat expenses for travel and housing in Germany will be deducted from the women’s earnings as well as … that the jobs are offered without work permits are clear indicators that the activity going on before our eyes is trafficking of Russian women and girls to serve in the World Cup brothels.

In a rhetorical flourish, Engel charged the German government with acting “as an official ‘pimp’ ” for the tournament; the event, she added, “is a human rights disaster in the making.” Subcommittee chairman Chris Smith (R–New Jersey) said Bush would raise the issue with the German chancellor.

We have not yet read an official German response, but there must be some irritation at this meddling from abroad. German media noted the hearing’s provocative title—“Germany’s World Cup Brothels.” With Bush’s comments that “some of us older guys are now beginning to understand the significance of the World Cup,” the sudden American concern, while justified, seems prurient.

Some of the subjects of Soccerhead. Left to right, Thomas “The Hammer” Waring, Ben Haner, Shelby Hammond, Kevin Guerrero and Bryan Basdeo of the College Park (Maryland) Hornets. (Copyright © Nick Waring)

Signs do exist that Americans are becoming more reflective about the sport. Even Bush’s comments seem encouraging for the mere fact that he has some thoughts on the subject. Jim Haner, author of Soccerhead: An Accidental Journey into the Heart of the American Game, published last month, uses the book not just to chronicle his youth-coaching exploits but to mull cultural differences and soccer’s relationship to American notions of fair play. In an extended excerpt appearing in the Washington Post Magazine, Haner writes:

[I]n this game, as in life, bumps and scrapes and setbacks are expected as cosmic forces unfurl, and the immigrant soccer fans seem to have faith that the leveling hand of God will set things mostly right in the end.

Not so their native-born neighbors. Almost nothing about soccer conforms to American conceptions about sports—or life in general. For one thing, you can’t use your hands, which makes everything else more difficult. For another, there’s only so much you can do with your feet to make a speeding ball behave rationally. Efficiency and expediency, which might as well be lyrics in the National Anthem, are stymied at every turn. By necessity, legality becomes a much more fluid concept, based on snap interpretations of 17 bright line “laws”—which date to the 19th century—by referees who are beyond the checks and balances of instant replay or umpire conferences. For Americans, with their vestigial Puritan morality, their ornate codes of conduct and their Constitutional entitlement to be secure in their personal space, watching their kids play this immoral game can provoke a spontaneous infarction.

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