The Next World Cup Needs a Sidekick

Eyes around the world are fixated on South Africa, and with good reason – The World Cup, which crowns a champion in the world’s most popular sport is in full swing.  It is a competition, which has been called the “Cup of Life” in pop culture and I understand why.  I find myself at once cheering America’s come-from-behind wins, and mourning their recent loss – and yet I tip my hat to Ghana.  That was an amazing, emotionally-draining game.  From anguish to hope to ecstasy, that game had everything you’ll experience in life.

The sportsman in me loves watching the Cup and, now that is America is out, I’m already thinking about 2014 in Brazil…but the human in me is hoping that the next World Cup offers a little something more than American victories…or soccer for that matter.

What I propose is an event which takes place concurrently with the World Cup and brings the young, bright minds of the world together to exhibit their talent off the soccer field.  It could be an academic decathlon of sorts, where students from all nations are encouraged to develop solutions to the world’s greatest challenges — or at least simulations thereof.  

It would be a nice chaser to the “Cup of Life.”  From a utilitarian standpoint, the amalgamation of some of the world’s best athletes is exciting and reason to pay attention, but it will not help the 1 billion people around the world who do not have access to clean drinking water.

We need to offer the next generation something that shows appreciation for something besides being the best athlete in the world and we can do it at the same time as being awe inspired by athleticism.  By fostering a program, which takes place right outside World Cup matches, we can host competitions between groups of young scholars, engineers and mathematicians from all over the world to address issues, which granted, may not be as interesting to watch, but are no less important, than putting a ball in a goal.

This has been done in some form with popular culture already.  Locally, here in Washington, DC, you can tune in to “It’s Academic” a game show featuring high school students from  around the community that incorproates everything from cheerleaders to a live studio audience.  It’s telling that this is one of the longest running shows in history.  

I don’t expect this to surpass interest in the World Cup.  Nor do I expect it to take off immediately.  But, any visually competitive event, where, for example, teams are given a certain number of materials and forced to remotely put a ball in a goal in a certain period of time could inspire some youth of the world that even if they don’t score a golden goal, they can be a part of something global.  It could be a fun take on the world’s most popular sport and it would be a nice dash of real hope for the future.

Who knows, it might even result in some of the World Cup athletes throwing their hat (or shoe as it were) in the ring at the academic competitions themselves.  Talk about cross-training!

Ole! Ole! Ole!

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