I used to think that track and field was more popular in Europe. Growing up in Seattle, I would always tune into CBC and see European stadiums packed with fans to watch the world’s best run, jump, and throw. But as I’ve visited and lived in Europe more and more, I’ve decided that it just isn’t true. Track and field is not more popular in Europe. With the exception of soccer, sports in general are less popular. American sports provide mass entertainment to millions of people. The Super Bowl tomorrow provides a perfect example. Die hard fans from coast to coast see their moods swing along with the win-loss records of their favorite teams. I haven’t seen anything like that in Zurich, where even the local soccer team fails to sell out its mid-sized stadium. Locals find it hard to believe that the Seattle Sounders have better attendance numbers (a sold out stadium of 36,000 for each match in 2010) because according to the stereotype, Americans aren’t supposed to like soccer. Even participation is much lower in Europe. The number of track and field athletes at my local high school is almost as high as the number of youth track and field athletes in the entire city of Zurich.
Yesterday I attended the Sportpreis Zurich awards ceremony and was invited to sit at the head table as a Swiss champion. Seated beside be were Zurich’s other national and European champions. As we talked over dinner, a common theme emerged. With the exception of the chess player, none of us were solely professional athletes. We all held down regular jobs and are constantly looking for sponsors. This situation is no better than it is for non-mainstream sports in America.
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