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Where's the Cup Fever?

Where's the Cup Fever?The United States -- unlike the rest of the world -- still hasn't caught the soccer fever that often defines the World Cup, Tufts' Jonathan Wilson told National Public Radio.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.03.02] For almost a month every four years, soccer fans around the world put their lives on hold to follow the sport's most-watched event - the World Cup. While the United States has taken an increased interest in the international sporting event, Tufts' Jonathan Wilson - an avid soccer fan who covered the 1994 World Cup for The New Yorker -- says Americans still haven't caught what is known around the globe as "soccer fever."

"Soccer games, when you go to them in the states, are family affairs. They're not family affairs anywhere else in the world - they're just scenes of anxiety and tension," Wilson told WBUR's On Point. "The soccer that's being played isn't wimpy, but the atmosphere that surrounds it is not quite what it is in any other part of the world."

In countries like Great Britain and France, soccer is "life and death," Wilson said. While other American sporting events evoke that kind of emotion from U.S. fans, soccer hasn't.

"It's the same all over the world, except here," Wilson - a life-long soccer fan who grew up playing the sport in England - told Boston's National Public Radio station. "The involvement is absolutely passionate and deep and intense - in the same way that it is for American fans when they're watching a Yankees-Red Sox [baseball game], if you're a Yankees or Red Sox fan."

The Tufts English professor said the lack of a large TV audience for soccer, especially among kids, hasn't propelled the sport or its star players to the same heights as other athletes.

"I think it's a problem that kids don't see players to emulate," Wilson told On Point. "[Unlike] the way that a kid will have watched Michael Jordan and then go and run out of the house and try to emulate him, they're not watching soccer players the same way."

But there are some pockets of intense soccer fans around the U.S., he said.

"There's a new world of soccer supporters," Wilson said, describing groups like the Latino-American fans who supported the South American teams when the World Cup was played in the U.S. in 1994.

The recent success of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team may also have a positive effect over the long term, as more and more kids become passionate about the sport.

"It's hard to manufacture that [passion] and I think it's something that perhaps you have to be born with or grow up with," he told On Point.

The sport, Wilson says, needs to take hold of fans from a very early age in order for "soccer fever" to set in across the United States.

"When you start to see inner city kids kicking a soccer ball around in the same way that they throw a basketball around, you'll begin to know you're on the way to having a profound soccer culture in the country," Wilson said.

Photos courtesy of Reuters.

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