Widely regarded as the pinnacle of soccer, the 2022 World Cup, played this year in Qatar, has once again attracted a huge global following.
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Millions of fans and thousands of soccer bettors have been watching the games, debating, arguing, cheering, and suffering, while betting on every aspect of the competition on a variety of betting platforms, from traditional bookies to the latest cryptocurrency betting portals. In fact, betting on soccer goes back decades to the beginning of organized soccer in England.
Soccer, like many of the most enduring sports, is based on a simple and fundamental physical act: the kicking of a small object. So, it is not surprising that there are multiple examples of soccer-like games recorded all over the world.
From Ancient Times
One of the earliest comes from Ancient China. There is evidence that around 3,000 years ago, Chinese military trainees were playing a game that involved kicking an animal skin ball stuffed with feathers between poles. That exercise likely evolved into Tsu Chu, a game that was played as early as AD50, featuring a round ball and square goals.
In the Middle Ages, English villages developed a form of sport that involved huge crowds from rival villages attempting to kick a rudimentary ball through a pre-determined landmark. From this violent, unruly, and occasionally fatal sport, soccer took on more formal development in the 19th century when the rules were codified by the English Football Association in 1863.
The sport was known as Association Football to distinguish it from other versions played at that time, with rugby football being the most notable rival. The name soccer, derived from association, was also used, although now it is common in relatively few countries, including the US and Canada.
Due to the powerful global position of Great Britain and Europe in the second half of the 19th century, the sport inevitably spread around the world, most notably to South America. In 1930, the first World Cup was staged, organized by the Frenchman Jules Rimet. Nearly 100 years later, the World Cup rivals the Olympics as a global sports spectacle, with hundreds of millions of fans watching.
But why soccer? Why did this sport, of all the sports that were codified and popularized in the 19th century, rise to such a place of dominance?
Easy To Play
For a start, soccer is easy to play. There are lots of rules at the top level of the game, but the essence of the sport remains simple. Two teams, two goals, and a ball. Kick the ball between the posts and you score a goal. The team with the most goals wins. That’s it.
When a sport arrives in a new nation, usually with immigrants, sailors, or merchants, the speed with which it catches on can depend on how simple it is to understand. In the case of soccer, anyone can pick up the basics and start playing almost immediately.
Open To All
Soccer, like most sports, sadly has its own shameful legacy of discrimination, even in the sport’s birthplace. When women’s soccer threatened to become as popular as the men’s game in England after the first World War, the Football Association banned women from playing.
Despite many examples of bigotry spoiling the game, wealth is one barrier that does not apply. To play soccer, all you really need is a ball and a little imagination. Trees, streetlights, trash cans, and even jackets can be used as goals, and you’re all set. So, whether you grew up in a Brazilian favela, a Nigerian village, or a remote Siberian mining town, there were no barriers to playing soccer.
Players, Not Coaches
Another factor in the favor of soccer is that it is fundamentally a game for players, not coaches. Unlike the version of football played in the US, soccer doesn’t require a coach, nor does it require players to master certain individual technical skills.
Of course, at the top level, coaching is essential, but for most soccer players, it is a participatory sport, in which anyone can join in, without needing to understand complicated technical skills or strategies.
Short and Unpredictable
The final reason for soccer’s rise to global dominance is more subtle but equally important. Soccer is a relatively short and low-scoring game. The shortness of the game makes it easier for people to get into and increases the unpredictability. Soccer is relatively low scoring compared to sports such as basketball and football, which means that the best teams do not win with the same regularity as in those sports.
That unpredictability encourages players and teams to try, and makes for a compelling spectacle, along with plenty of surprises. Even at the top level, good teams sometimes lose and that’s one of the main reasons that soccer, and the World Cup, has reached its current level of global popularity.