Tuesday, March 28, 2006

70 Things You Can Do with Soccer at School

You can tell a country by the crises, controversies, and scandals that capture media attention, be a stained blue dresses or the secret diaries of dead princesses. So what’s the hot topic here? With the solemn observance of the thirtieth anniversary of the last Argentine coup over, attention returns to a pressing social issue:

Should schools let students watch the Argentine team games during this year’s World Cup in Germany?

[Just in case some US readers--whose national pastime’s championship is called, oddly enough, “the World Series”--still don’t know what the World Cup is: It’s soccer, my friends, or “fútbol,” as they say everywhere else. Thirty-two teams from six continents make up the field for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ finals in Germany, a truly global championship. See http://fifaworldcup.yahoo.com/06/en/ for more.]

The state religion in Argentina may technically be Catholicism, but everyone here knows it is really fútbol.

We are talking about a country in which children, upon meeting me, immediately ask me, “What’s your favorite team? Boca or River?” and where you can find 3 or 4 games on TV at any given moment, including on two are three strategically placed screens in all but the classiest eateries. Last night, after our tango lesson and during our 11 pm café dinner, Roberto and I were treated to a play-by-play analysis of “the" game of the season—the Boca-River match the day before. (It's 0-0 final score probably preventing rioting in the streets by fans of the winners and losers.)

The frenzy hits the max when the World Cup rolls around. With three matches scheduled for June, the Argentine team will be watched on every TV from Iguazu Falls to Ushuaia in this futból-crazed nation.

As happens every four years, the country is paralyzed watching their blue-and-white uniformed long-haired athletes running around on grass for ninety minutes of ball-kicking and body-bumping against the likes of England, West Germany, Nigeria, Croatia and neighboring rivals Brazil and Uruguay.

In this southern hemisphere nation, June is winter—and a school month. Eyeing absentee records from past World Cup years, pragmatists in the provincial governments of Mendoza and Cordoba announced that they would let school children watch the Argentine team’s games. The brouhaha quickly broke out.

Purists denounced the move, saying it lowers educational standards. Realists replied that the kids won’t come to school if they aren’t allowed to watch. Both are right, of course. . . so what to do??

Federal education minister, Daniel Filmus, quickly intervened this week with a brilliant resolution to the issue: He announced that the ministry will distribute a handbook that lists 70 educational activities to do with soccer during the World Cup. In collaboration with the Germany Embassy, the Argentine national education officials have compiled exercises that link soccer with language, history, and geography.

Math wasn’t on the published list. Then again, you don’t need much math since the total points in the winning game only exceeded the number of fingers on one hand on two occasions since 1930!(Let the US DOE and NCAA work on that for March madness curricular pizzazz.)

As a tennis and baseball fan, I confess I never watched much soccer—unless it was the Marcellus High School girls team, sometimes NY state champs, and for which my daughter Sara played. But I will take a page from Filmus's book and do a little studying on June 10, 16, and 21, when my adopted country's team will take center stage at the WC. Then again , I just might try cultural adaptation and join my own Argentine peers who do what they do in Fenway or Yankee Stadium--and just enjoy the games with some good beer!