Perhaps my naiveté to the scope of the World Cup is due to my American upbringing.
We aren’t good at soccer. Heck, America just finished one of our greatest World Cups ever, and we’re praising our team after coming home with 2 losses, 1 win, and a tie, for heavens sake.
I was raised on the Olympics. When it’s Olympics time, everything else gets put on hold. It’s a magical experience like none other. And plus, America usually wins the medal count (and with it, more American bias). Until this year, I had always assumed that it was by far the greatest sporting event around.
But, was I wrong?
Some of the numbers say World Cup. And some say Olympics. The debate rages on. Just search “World Cup vs. Olympics” and you’ll find a slew of arguments either way.
So, which one is better? Let’s compare.
Olympics: The pinnacle events of 41, mostly relatively obscure, sports are played. But let’s be honest, do you watch professional badminton, canoe slalom, or water polo more than once every four years?
World Cup: The pinnacle event of the 1 most popular sport in the world is played. For most of the world, watching soccer is an almost daily occurrence.
Olympics: Get 2nd place? Have a silver medal! Finish 3rd? Have a bronze! Finish last? We’ll make a feel-good documentary about you! We just want everyone to feel special!
World Cup: Get 2nd place? Your country may now go into mourning for the next 4 years because of how tortorously close you came to ultimate joy. Get worse than 2nd place? Your coach, and most of your players are now kicked off of the team, disgraced by the media, and shunned by the public. (shout out to England!)
Olympics: Michael Phelps, Jesse Owens, Bonnie Blair, Michelle Kwan, etc. will go down in history in the ultimate event for the individual.
World Cup: The Brazilian Teams of 1970 and 2002, the Spaniards of 2010, the Germans of 74, etc. will go down in history in the ultimate event for the team.
Olympics: Millions (and sometimes billions) of dollars are spent on the artistic fanfare of the opening ceremony. Lose your event? That’s ok, let’s celebrate in a couple weeks at the closing ceremonies!
World Cup: What opening ceremonies? Let’s just play some futbol. Your team lose in the group stages? Don’t bother sticking around. Your pain-filled plane ride leaves tomorrow morning.
Olympics: Win a gold medal for your country? You’ll become a national hero, get some headlines, and have speaking events lined up for the rest of your life. They may even write a “Where are they now?” every few years for you.
World Cup: Win the World Cup? Your country will riot in the streets for weeks, make you into a statue, shower you with riches, and possibly elect you president.
Olympics: Want to know who you’re up against? Due to last-minute qualification rounds, drug suspensions, and heat changes, we’ll let you know on race day.
World Cup: 6 months before the World Cup even starts, we’re going to put you in a lottery-based group so that you can stew and sweat over who you’ll be playing. And by the way, to even show up to the World Cup, first you have to play a dozen or so qualification games and beat out all of the countries who don’t even get to come.
Typical Olympics fans:
Typical World Cup fans:
Olympics: Let’s celebrate our world unity through the culture and art of sporting achievement!
World Cup: Win, or Death.
You have to appreciate the beauty and splendor of the Olympics, and the high-stakes intensity of the World Cup. We’re lucky to live in a time and place that supports both.
And every even-yeared summer, they both deserve to be the only thing on your television.