Whenever I hear someone say Americans are parochial because they don’t love soccer as much as the rest of the world, I get a little steamed.
Whenever I hear someone say, “Soccer is the most popular sport in the world,” I reply, “Yeah, and rice is the most popular food in the world.” Soccer is the one sport that everyone in the world can compete on something like an equal basis, but that doesn’t mean it’s the sport that all the countries in the world would choose if they could choose their favorite sport. What soccer really is is the world’s most popular compromise sport.
This is not an anti-soccer argument—I’m trying to make a point. In the world’s most populous country, China, soccer is popular but no more so than Ping-Pong and basketball. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh—the world’s second, sixth, and seventh most-populated countries—cricket is No. 1. (Talk about parochialism!) Indonesia is the fourth most-populated country, and racket sports, starting with badminton, are the games of choice.
In Japan, they spend their leisure time watching baseball, soccer, and sumo wrestling. Australians favor football (Australian rules, of course), soccer, baseball, rugby, and crocodile hunting. The Canadians like hockey, baseball, soccer, and rioting. In Cuba, it’s baseball and basketball. Baseball and tae kwon do reign in Taiwan. Russians go for soccer, ice hockey, and baseball.
Who did I leave out? Oh, yes, we’re now the third most-populous country in the world. What is our national sport? Football, baseball, basketball, soccer?
No, it’s all of the above. All the sports and a dozen more—all the sports that are popular around the globe. Parochialism, hell. The national sport of the United States is sports, and the sports capital of America—and therefore of the world—is New York.
We not only draw fans from other countries, but we also draw them from other worlds. We’re the home of the Quidditch World Cup, “uniting wizards and witches from all walks of life. . . .” So says the Hogwarts Experience website. Rumor is that Giuliani is pushing a new stadium.
It goes without saying that we’re the baseball capital of the world. This is where the great players from all over the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, Australia, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Venezuela—to name just a few—want to play. (This is where Hugo Chávez would play ball if he had another life.)
New York is also the basketball capital of the world. Add up all the college and high school tournaments, all the schoolyard b’ball legends, and there’s more basketball lore here than in any other city anywhere. I’m not even going to present any facts or figures to back this up. If you want to argue the case, go ahead, but you’ll be wrong.
Hockey? OK, I’ll concede that we’re probably not the hockey capital of the world, though we do have two things that other more hockey-centric areas don’t have: three NHL teams and the NYC Gay Hockey Association, which competes in international tournaments.
And if we’re not the center of the ice hockey world, we’re rapidly becoming the field hockey capital of North America. Field hockey is the world’s third most-popular participant sport behind soccer and cricket and, according to the New York Times, “New York’s hotbed of field hockey talent has produced its share of national and Olympic players.” Teams often serve as links back to the homeland for players from the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, Australia, South Africa, England, and other Europeans countries. (The team from Westchester is almost entirely Dutch.) Today North America; tomorrow the world.
You don’t associate cricket with New York? Well, stick this through your wicket: There are so many children of immigrants playing cricket that in 2008, the NYC Department of Education made it a varsity sport. The NYC Parks and Recreation website even lets you search for cricket fields near your Zip code. (If you’re near Park Slope, the site lists 12 cricket clubs and facilities.) BTW, the second story I ever wrote for the Voice (and this was decades ago) was a profile of Garfield Sobers, the king of cricket, who was appearing in Prospect Park.
We got tennis; we got table tennis. Outside of Beijing, the world’s largest bastion of Ping-Pong diplomacy can be found in NYC. We boast a diversity of playing venues unmatched by any other city, including Bryant Park’s monthly tournament, the Brownsville Recreation Center, the Upper West Side’s simple Wang Chen’s Table Tennis Club, and Susan Sarandon’s elegant club in the Flatiron district, SPIN, with Olympic-grade cushioned flooring, a $60,000 glass and steel table, and a bar.
Running? The New York City Marathon is the biggest and best in the world; last year, there were more finishers and more spectators than in any marathon anywhere. And though the Boston Marathon is older, the New York City Marathon is better because when you start it and finish it, you’re in New York City instead of Boston.
We vie with L.A. as the last great center of boxing—professional bouts, neighborhood boxing clubs, Golden Gloves, you name it. Every three years, we host the Maloof Cup in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which, I’m sure you don’t need to be told, is the highest championship (with one of the best purses) a skateboarder can aspire to. In the spring, we even have competitive angling when the Fishermen’s Conservation Association hosts its annual Manhattan Cup, the area’s largest catch-and-release tournament.
We’re the most competitive city in the world. Even our dogs are kick-ass. The first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was held in 1877, making it the second-oldest continuously held sporting event in the country (behind only the Kentucky Derby). Last year, 179 breeds were shown—almost as many as we have breeds of people.
You know why there are so many people here? Because when sports fans all over the world die and go to heaven, they come to New York.