Is the World Cup the world's greatest sporting event?

They are everywhere. Brazil, France, England, Togo, Tobago, next door, in the office, at the gym, in the grocery store, behind shrubs and under bushes.

There is no escaping them. I see one wearing a multi-colored shirt plastered with writing I cannot decipher, and I make my best guess: "Go Poland!"

I see the face paint. I hear the chants. I sense the passion. I smell the vodka. I get scared. I dare not cross these soccer crazies. I have no desire to become a human pinata.

Cowardice isn't the only reason I refuse to play the role of the boorish American who harrumphs that he'd rather watch paint dry or undergo a root canal than be subjected to single minute of the torture that is watching World Cup soccer.

Fact is, I like this event. I like most any high-level competition. I have spent hours watching world championship curling tournaments (they're called bonspiels) and the World Series of Poker. I'll watch pingpong and sumo wrestling and no-neck guys lift school buses and tote kegs of beer if the "athletes" are competing for the title "Best in the World."

If greatness in this debate is based on worldwide fan interest, no sporting event (sorry, Super Bowl and Summer Olympics) is within a free kick of the World Cup, which is expected to draw somewhere in the neighborhood of 19 billion TV viewers during its 31-day run. About 1 billion are expected to watch the July 9 final.

This is an event that, for however briefly, halts civil wars (the Ivory Coast has declared a cease-fire) as nations unite to support their teams. Does anybody in Ecuador, Ghana ---- or, for that matter, America ---- know who is playing in today's ArenaBowl? Does anybody care?

Just to be clear, this is not a debate about the merits of the MLS, a bunch of B-squad soccer teams being sold off as "major league." The U.S. soccer explosion that we've been told is coming any day now for the past 30 years has no chance of happening until the Beckhams and Ronaldinhos of the world play here in their prime. It might not happen even then.

That's OK with me. I get my soccer every four years thanks to the World Cup. I will cheer for the U.S. I will cheer for your country, too. Even if I'm not sure what country that is.

"Go Togo?"


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