In India, we call them cricket matches, football matches and tennis matches. In US, they call them ‘games’ rather than ‘matches’. Regardless of what they are called, it is interesting to see popularity of sports in different countries. Indians, for instance, cannot comprehend the reason for popularity of American Football in the US. Many of the Americans, I am sure, find Baseball to be more interesting than cricket. Entire South Asia feels otherwise. My friend found my interest in American College Football a bit amusing. That triggered a discussion to rationalise the popularity of sports in different places. Here are some of my views on that. This post can also be titled, “why I follow American football?”
The prime reason, in my opinion, for a sport to be followed by masses is that your team (you regional or national team, doesn’t matter) excel at it. Even if your team is not among the best, you are most inclined to follow the sport you team plays the best. Hockey used to be popular in India when we were the world champions. When India became world champions in cricket, the popularity of hockey faded. Given the dismal condition of Indian Hockey today, it has only a few followers. I watch American College Football for the same reason. Penn State is among the top 10 football playing colleges in the country. This is the also reason why I do NOT follow Baseball in US. State College’s team do not play well. Had they been good at it, I am sure everyone in town would have followed the team.
From my experience, I find that Indians dismiss American Football as mere scramble for the ball. The problem is that most of them do that without any understanding of the game. Calling American Football as only a Quarterback’s game is equivalent to saying Soccer is a mid-fielder’s game. I may not understand the nuances of American football as well as I understand cricket, but still I do understand the game enough to enjoy it.
Also, when you are cheering for your own team, there is emotion involved. During the Soccer world cup finals, almost everyone in India had chosen their favorite team for the final. There was an equal division between those who had chosen France and those who had chosen Italy. Most of the people were, in fact, disinterested in the result of the game. I had then read that nothing comes close to cheering for your own country. And I agree! Nothing comes close to cheering for your own team. I cheered for Steelers during the superbowl game because there were from my state. Still, the emotional roller coaster (if i may use the clichéd phrase) I go through when I watch Penn State play is way more pronounced than that I went though during the superbowl.
In India, regional cricket is hardly followed by anyone other than the national team selectors. It is natural that we find the popularity of college football, as opposed to professional football, surprising in America. English Premier League (EPL) is popular all over the world, including India. To me, it is as bizarre as popularity of College Football in the US. I think, this is because, as a Soccer fan, that’s the only thing you get to see. International Soccer is limited to World Cup, Euro Cup and few more tournaments. I have seen arguments that Indians are not really passionate about cricketbecause we watch only international matches. But soccer fans, on the other hand, follow club football too. So they are more passionate about the game. I think that the argument is nonsense. The sparse schedule of international tournaments leaves fans with no choice but to follow EPL. American sports have similar fate. The games they play is not played by any other country. Thus they have to resort to watching to what they get, their college teams or city teams.
I was also asked if I watch Professional American Football. My answer was no. My friends reasoned that I am not all that passionate about the game. That may be true. But how many Indians, who claim to be passionate about cricket, follow a series between, say, Sri Lanka and New Zealand? As long as you are disinterested in the outsome of a match, you will not follow it. In world cup, every match matters. It’s a little wonder that every cricket fan tries to watch as many matches as they can during the worldcup.