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The Team Didn’t Qualify, But Soccer Is Stronger : U.S.

Technology is also raising soccer’s profile in the United States.

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United States' Joe Cobra in action during an international friendly soccer match against Bolivia, Monday, May 28, 2018, in Chester, Pa.
United States' Joe Cobra in action during an international friendly soccer match against Bolivia, Monday, May 28, 2018, in Chester, Pa. VOA
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The 2018 World Cup is around the corner, and billions of people around the world will be glued to the matches.

But what about Americans?  The men’s national team didn’t qualify for the global tournament for the first time since 1986.

What’s the state of soccer in the United States?

“Overall, soccer is stronger than it ever has been,” said Michael Kammarman a spokesman for the United States Soccer Federation.

According to a 2014 ESPN survey, the popularity of professional soccer in the United States equaled that of professional baseball among 12 to 17 year olds, a first.

Furthermore, a 2018 Gallup poll found that soccer had eclipsed hockey as the fourth most popular sport in the country, behind American football, basketball and baseball.  That survey found that 37 percent of Americans said American football was their favorite sport to watch.  That compared to 11 percent for basketball, nine percent for baseball and seven percent for soccer.

Kammarman said the 1994 World Cup, which was hosted by the United States, was the turning point for soccer here.

“It remains the most successful World Cup in history in terms of spectators and revenue,” said Kammarman.  “It demonstrated to the world that soccer was serious here.”In fact, two years after the 1994 World Cup, the professional Major League Soccer(MLS) had its first season.

A man calling himself Uncle Sam holds up a sign Saturday, June 19, 1993, welcoming the World Cup Soccer tournament to the Silver dome in Pontiac, The event was a prelude to the World Cup being played in 1994. The 1994 World Cup was a turning point for American soccer.
A man calling himself Uncle Sam holds up a sign Saturday, June 19, 1993, welcoming the World Cup Soccer tournament to the Silver dome in Pontiac, Mich. Uncle Sam, of Quincy, Mass., was on hand for the 1993 U.S. Cup soccer tournament which was played on natural grass inside the Silver dome for the first time. Germany defeated England 2-1 to capture the trophy. The event was a prelude to the World Cup being played in 1994. VOA

Since then, the number of MLS teams has grown from 12 to 23, according to Kammarman.  He added the league will soon grow to 28 teams.  Average attendance in 2014 was over 19,000.

Kammarman also points to the success of women’s soccer as a driver for the sport in the United States.  The national team is ranked No. 1 in the world and has won numerous Olympic gold medals and World Cups.

Kammarman added the U.S. women’s national team victory in the 1999 World Cup was another important milestone for American soccer.

Hispanic-Americans, too, are making soccer more popular.  According to a recent YouGov poll, 56 percent reported following soccer in non-World Cup years.

Fans celebrate during an event to announce the addition of FC Cincinnati as an expansion team to Major League Soccer, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati has set attendance records in its three seasons in the United Soccer League and plans to have a soccer-only stadium ready for the 2021 season. The announcement on Tuesday brings MLS a step closer to its goal of a 28-team league. The latest round of expansion will bring it to 26 teams.
Fans celebrate during an event to announce the addition of FC Cincinnati as an expansion team to Major League Soccer, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati has set attendance records in its three seasons in the United Soccer League and plans to have a soccer-only stadium ready for the 2021 season. The announcement on Tuesday brings MLS a step closer to its goal of a 28-team league. The latest round of expansion will bring it to 26 teams. VOA

Millennials are increasingly interested in soccer, Kammarman said.

“They are seeing a lot of different things to like about soccer.  They like the communal nature and the fan experience, as well as the global nature of the sport.”

Technology is also raising soccer’s profile in the United States.

Kammarman said the FIFA Soccer video games, which have been hugely popular among gamers and soccer fans, have made Americans increasingly aware of soccer’s superstars such as Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

The United States Women’s National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, July 5, 2015.
The United States Women’s National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, July 5, 2015. VOA

He added that soccer was also one of the first sports in the country for which fans went to the internet to follow because there was little coverage on television and in the news.

Kammarman doesn’t see the failure of the U.S. men’s team to make the World Cup as endangering the growth of soccer here.

“It was a disappointment, but not a setback,” he said.  “If this had happened in 2002, it could have really stunted the momentum the sport had.”

FOX Sports Soccer Analyst Alexi Lalas hosts the Nestle Nesquik youth soccer clinic on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in Glendale, Calif. Local participants from the American Youth Soccer Organization and Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club learned soccer skills.
FOX Sports Soccer Analyst Alexi Lalas hosts the Nestle Nesquik youth soccer clinic on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in Glendale, Calif. Local participants from the American Youth Soccer Organization and Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club learned soccer skills. While the kids participated in soccer drills, parents learned about postgame nutrition must-haves including suggested benefits of low fat chocolate milk because it contains the ideal 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein to restore tired muscles after strenuous activity. VOA

The U.S. team made the quarterfinals in that World Cup, the first time in 72 years the team made it that far, Kammarman said.

Also read: worlds most dangerous ciity somalia nighttime soccer match

That success, he said, gave young American players inspiration to pursue soccer.  Between 1990 and 2014, the number of youth players in the country rose by 89 percent.  In 2015, there were nearly 25 million soccer players in the United States, second only to China. (VOA)

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Russia Using World Cup To Gloss Over Its Human Rights Record: Activists

FIFA President Gianni Infantino insists world football's governing body is engaging Russia on the issue

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People play soccer at the Red Square during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Moscow, Russia, June 19, 2018.
People play soccer at the Red Square during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Moscow, Russia, June 19, 2018. VOA

Human rights campaigners say Russia is using the glitz of the World Cup to try to gloss over its deteriorating human rights record — and they want tournament organizer FIFA to use its leverage to force change.

The 12 Russian host cities have enjoyed a World Cup makeover, as Russia presents a friendly face and photogenic scenery to hundreds of thousands of visitors. Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, is urging visitors to dig a little deeper.

“Our message to the fans is: Take a little time and learn more about the human rights crisis in Russia today, about what is, in fact, happening under the tournament’s glitter.” She described the situation as the biggest crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Russian citizens are denied their rights to speak freely, to protest freely, and people actually go to jail for posting online things like ‘Crimea is not Russia.'”

 Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov looks out from a defendants' cage as he listens to the verdict at a military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Aug. 25, 2015.
Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov looks out from a defendants’ cage as he listens to the verdict at a military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Aug. 25, 2015. VOA

Among those locked up is Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and is serving a 20-year jail term on terrorism charges.

In the Russian republic of Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, director of the human rights group Memorial, has been detained on drug charges, which his supporters said are false and politically motivated.

Before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the release of several political prisoners. Campaigners are hoping he may repeat the gesture.

“We got a confirmation from FIFA that the organization’s leadership is engaging on the issue and hoping for a positive resolution,” Lokshina said.

Oyub Titiyev, the head of regional branch of Russian human rights group Memorial, attends a court hearing in Grozny, Russia, March 6, 2018.
Oyub Titiyev, the head of regional branch of Russian human rights group Memorial, attends a court hearing in Grozny, Russia, March 6, 2018. VOA

FIFA President Gianni Infantino insists world football’s governing body is engaging Russia on the issue.

“Concrete progress has been made in terms of human rights and the way we are dealing with human rights questions. Also through football and through an event like the World Cup,” he said in a recent interview.

On the opening day of the World Cup, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was arrested after staging a protest outside the Kremlin, calling for an investigation into the torture and disappearance of several gay men in Chechnya. In 2007, Tatchell was attacked in Moscow by neo-Nazis and suffered partial brain damage.

A short walk from the Kremlin lies Diversity House, set up to provide a safe space for LGBTQ and other minorities to watch the games. Pavel Klymenko, of the equality campaign group FARE Network that organized the facility, said it is intended to make a political point.

Russian police detane gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, center, as he holds a banner that reads "Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people" near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 14, 2018.
Russian police detane gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, center, as he holds a banner that reads “Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people” near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 14, 2018. VOA

“This house is a way of saying to everyone — to the footballing world, to the Russian society — that minorities are part of the game, part of society.”

Also read: Canadian Accused Of Helping Russian Intelligence Agents Sentenced To Prison For 5 Years

The fear is that once the fans and footballers return home, Russia’s human rights crackdown may intensify. (VOA)