Bringing Generations Together, One “Gol” at a Time: A Research Perspective on the World Cup

BlogJul 10 2014

Who would have thought that in 90 minutes you could ricochet from absolute joy, to extreme anxiety, and back to joy, and end in tears (and not always the happy kind), while losing your voice in the process? Soccer can do that to you.

“La pasión del fútbol” is contagious; some even say soccer is a religion. The World Cup is the most-watched sporting event on Earth. Soccer is growing in popularity in the U.S.; it has surpassed the Super Bowl and the Olympics in popularity, generating millions of mentions on social media sites and hundreds of millions of viral video views. The USA-Portugal game attracted 24.7 million viewers across two television networks, ESPN and Univision. The ESPN audience alone — 18.2 million viewers — set a record as the largest to watch a soccer game on U.S. television. The World Cup is a stage on which countries from across the globe come together. The sport of fútbol itself is a great excuse for people of all ages, cultures, and countries to come together, whether it is by watching or playing the sport.

For the U.S., the World Cup provides an opportunity for our increasingly multinational child population to see itself reflected in one of the top sports. It can play an especially important role for Hispanics, who constitute the largest racial/ethnic minority. Soccer serves as a platform for Latinos and other immigrants to express and highlight their cultural and ethnic identities, share their heritage with their U.S.-born children, and pass on family traditions. The World Cup tournament provides an opportunity for those with mixed origins to root for many of their “home countries” at once. Most importantly, fútbol is a good and fun excuse for families to come together. Research tells us that these shared experiences strengthen families and promote children’s well-being.

After four weeks, the World Cup comes to an end, with Germany and Argentina playing in the final match on Sunday, July 13th. Throughout the event, we’ve seen great (and unexpected) successes from countries like Colombia and Costa Rica. We have seen players emerge as stars, like Guillermo Ochoa from Mexico and James Rodriguez from Colombia. As Latinos, families and communities, we have come together to celebrate and take pride in all of the successes of our “home countries,” and have been immersed in multiculturalism. While seeing our favorite teams eliminated saddens us, seeing the U.S.-born children in our families proudly wear their soccer jerseys to cheer for our home countries warms our hearts. We know that these children are building their own cultural identities based on traditions that were passed on to us by our parents. And we  know that no matter where they are, young and old, whenever our teams play again, we will come together to celebrate, one “GOL” at a time.