Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


CHAMPION OF THE OLYMPICS, SANS SOCCER

Jonah J. “Bud” Greenspan, whose soaring documentaries lifted the Olympic Games to near-mythical status for a generation of Americans, died in New York City at age 84. 

Greenspan began his filmmaking career in 1952 with a 15-minute feature on a U.S. gold medalist in weightlifting and went on to win a long string of honors for his work, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of America and a Peabody Award for “distinguished and meritorious public service.”   He collected his first Emmy for The Olympiad, a 22-hour documentary featuring Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin that debuted in 1976 and was aired in 80 countries.

In 1985, in presenting Greenspan the Olympic Order award, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch proclaimed, “Mr. Greenspan has been called the foremost producer, writer and director of Olympic films; more than that, he is an everlasting friend of the Olympic family.”  [December 25]

Comment:  No one individual not connected with a major American television network deserves more credit than Greenspan for planting the irresistable falsehood in the United States that the Olympics are the be-all and end-all in international sport.  Combine Greenspan’s well-crafted documentaries with the power of ABC Sports and, later, NBC Sports, and it was made clear to Americans that nothing in sports can stop traffic in Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, London, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Rome, Madrid, Mexico City, Seoul, Tehran, etc., etc., etc., like an Olympics (a winter Olympics included). 

Greenspan had no time for the money-spinner of every summer Olympics, the soccer tournament.  He had no interest in the filled stadiums and compelling story lines offered by Olympic soccer, so thanks to him and Roone Arledge of ABC and, later, Dick Ebersol of NBC, about a quarter century of quality soccer exposure in the U.S. was lost.  That is why today there remains a whole host of Americans with a slight relationship with soccer who still believe it would be much, much more noteworthy for USA men or women to win an Olympic gold in soccer than capture a World Cup.



A NEW BID, AND A WHOLE NEW AMERICA (PART II)

Fox Soccer Channel, already running a daily countdown graphic in the upper corner of your television screen, plans extensive coverage of the Thursday, December 2, FIFA Executive Committee vote on the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. 

“Fox Soccer Report Special, D-Day Minus One” will air Wednesday, December 1, at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.  “D-Day Minus One” will be reprised Friday, December 2, at 9 a.m., followed at 9:30 a.m. by live coverage of the announcements from Zurich.  (Note:  all times Eastern Standard.)  [November 28]

Comment:  Has America changed in the nearly 22 years since the U.S. was awarded its first World Cup?  There certainly was no soccer-specialty cable channel around in 1988 to cover the announcement that the United States had beaten out Morocco and Brazil.  (For the record, it was 10 votes to seven and two, respectively.)  There was no Internet, as we know it, so there was no www.fifa.com.   There was the nascent CNN, rare in American homes.  So it’s a personal anecdote that perhaps best encapsules the times:

The Executive Committe balloting to choose the host of the 15th World Cup had been moved by FIFA from June 30 to July 4, seen by many as a clear signal that the votes had lined up in the USA’s favor.  Nevertheless, advance coverage in the American mainstream media was almost non-existent.  This was just a World Cup, after all, not an Olympic Games.   On the Fourth of July, the winner was announced by FIFA Senior Vice President Harry Cavan at 1:21 p.m. local time in the Regulus Room of Zurich’s Movenpick Hotel.  So for one bleary eyed West Coast fan–nine time zones away in the pre-dawn darkness, anticipating a 1 o’clock, Swiss time, announcement–there was an additional wait of almost 25 minutes for the local all-news radio station to air its next twice-hourly sports report. 

At 4:45 a.m. (PDT), baseball scores and tennis results–nothing more.  Where to turn?   There was the temptation to call the Associated Press in New York, but perhaps there was a delay in the vote; surely the radio would bring the news in its next sportscast.  However, at 5:15 a.m., once again it was baseball and tennis, plus a bit of golf, so an anxious call was placed to the radio station’s newsroom.

Caller:  “Was the U.S. awarded the rights to host the 1994 World Cup?  Y’know, in soccer.”

KNX:  “Don’t know.  I’ll check sports.”  (A muffled, “Hey, did the U.S. get the ’94 soccer World Cup?”)  [Long pause]  “Yeah.”

Caller:  “The U.S. did get it?”  

KNX:  “Yeah.”

Caller:  “When did it come in?”

KNX:  (Muffled, again.)  [Pause]  “He says about an hour ago.”

Caller:  “Thank you.”

For the record, KNX reported the fact that the U.S. would host the biggest single-sport event in the world during its 5:45 a.m. sportscast to a listenership busy sleeping in on a national holiday.

[See the first A New Bid, A Whole New America; November 17; below.]