Soccer is a powerful sport. It forces English-speakers to watch Univision for up to nine hours a day. It has caused generations of Brazilian men (Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, etc.) to misplace their surnames.
In 1986, Congressman and future vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp said from the House floor, "I think it is important for all those young out there, who someday hope to play real football, where you throw it and kick it and run with it and put it in your hands, [that] a distinction should be made that football is democratic capitalism, whereas soccer is a European socialist sport." In a building renowned for the dumb things people say when they're inside of it, that's perhaps the dumbest.
Soccer's latest claim to fame is that it supposedly fosters peace. So says Bono.
In an ad he for recorded for ESPN, the singer and political activist claims that soccer "closes the schools, closes the shops, closes a city and stops a war."
The war to which America's favorite iPod salesman is likely referring to is the (un)civil conflict in the West African nation Côte D'Ivoire (aka Ivory Coast).
The happy feelings surrounding Côte D'Ivoire's first-ever appearance in the World Cup are thought to be at least part of the reason why the government and rebels have taken baby-steps in the direction of peace. It seems that, unlike Americans, Ivorians aren't yet capable of waging war while seated in front of their televisions.
Not everyone agrees that soccer promotes peace, however. In the past week or so, you may have heard a talking head or two mention that soccer actually once caused a war. The war they're referring to is the so-called La Guerra del Fútbol, known to English-speakers as either the Soccer War or the Football War.
The Soccer War was fought between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, when the two nations' soccer teams were playing a best-of-three playoff for the right to compete in the 1970 World Cup.
The first match took place in Honduras on June 8, 1969. According to Polish journalist and author Ryszard Kapuscinski, Honduran fans rioted outside the hotel where the Salvadoran team was trying to sleep the night before the match. The Honduran team defeated the exhausted Salvadorans 1-0.
A week later, the Honduran team received an even worse reception than the Salvadorans when they played the second match in El Salvador. In addition to pregame, sleep-depriving rioting, Salvadorans taunted the Honduran team by running a dirty dish rag up the stadium flag pole normally reserved for the visiting team's colors. El Salvador won, 3-0.
Anger between the two countries turned into all-out war on July 14, 1969, when El Salvador's military invaded Honduras. The Salvadoran military made spectacular advances until about, oh, July 16, when it started to run out of ammo and motor fuel. Under pressure from the Organization of American States, the two nations stopped fighting on July 20, with Salvadoran forces withdrawing from most of the territory they'd captured. Most reports I've read indicate that 2,000 people died.
Kapuscinski's book, The Soccer War, says 6,000 were killed, 12,000 were injured and 50,000 lost their homes.
Did soccer cause the war, though? Yes and no. The soccer games helped start the war, but the conflict was years in the making.
Throughout the 1960s, Honduran peasants pressured the government for land. The bulk of Honduras's best land was owned by the country's small ruling class and American fruit growers. Rather than give-up their own land or the US fruitocracy's land, the Honduran government started taking land from the 300,000 Salvadorans who'd settled in Honduras during the preceding decades.
In 1969, thousands of angry, landless, jobless peasants returned to tiny, overcrowded El Salvador. The war wasn't so much about soccer as it was crooked governments trying to find a place for poor people to live.
A third and deciding soccer match was eventually played between the two countries' teams in neutral Mexico. El Salvador won and advanced to the 1970 World Cup, where it was eliminated after losing its final first-round match to the Soviet Union. El Salvador resisted the urge to invade the Soviet Union in response.