Sports fans span the globe, crossing age, gender, and socio-economic boundaries. Building houses in Tijuana, Mexico, I witnessed a neighbourhood gather at a dirt pitch to cheer as boys with mismatched shoes or no shoes at all played 90 minutes of football.
Last Wednesday I stood in a bar in Granada passing cervasas and tapas between British and Spanish football fans whose love for Real Madrid crossed language and cultural barriers.
Alternatively, there is the more affluent fans who shell out thousands for season tickets every year, or even pay upwards of £500 to see one championship.
Each athletic team has its own cult following of fans, committed to them with religious devotion. They worship their team’s star athlete, perform ritual superstitions to ensure a win, and tithe a percent of their income to the cause of ticket sales and merchandise, all in an effort to get closer to the heaven that is their team.
The instant that the moneymaking capabilities of sport were realized in the western world, the idea of the fan was forever tainted. Now, in American Football and baseball, fans do not root for a team – they support a “franchise,” a business term usually applied to your local branch of Starbucks or McDonalds, more proof that they are in it for the money.
Additionally, as soon as fans get to know a team, players are lured away by moneybags like Real Madrid and the NY Yankees who can offer multi-million dollar contracts. These same franchises then raise ticket prices, making it financially impossible for the most loyal fans to see their teams live. It only gets worse as whole teams have begun abandoning loyal fan bases, moving cities in search of a more lucrative market.
In a time when team names have been trivialized into mere brand names, where players refuse to sign autographs because they fear money hungry entrepreneurs will use it to make millions on eBay, and it is commonly thought that a trip to the bookie before the next big game is necessary to “make it more interesting,” the optimist in me hopes the fundamentals of sports remain unjaded.
Fortunately, examples of untainted sports fans can still be found if you look long and hard. In the Dominican Republic, towns gather to watch local athletes play baseball on a dirt diamond with no gloves and a bat donated years ago by one of their own who made it to the big leagues in the early 80s. Fans of the money-hungry institutions in countries like America should try to bring sport back to this basic level; a pure, true love of game.