Until the age of 22, I defined myself as a soccer player. From the time I first touched a ball, there was seldom a time when I was happier or more comfortable doing anything else. Looking back now with fresh perspective, I find that rather odd, if not unnatural. Not that there's anything wrong with the sport we affectionately refer to as "the beautiful game", but because there is no real natural reason for humans to be adept at doing much anything with their feet apart from running (and maybe climbing, but I'll get to that in a later post). Tracing back to the first Olympics, competition was a more direct reflection of practical skills. Boxing and wrestling for instance, are obvious alpha-male type competitions, while javelin to this day is still a display of hunting superiority. It was only natural for games to progress, and as cultures longed for more entertainment and activity through sport, creativity knew few limits. Fast forward to present-day sports like golf, basketball or baseball, and it becomes difficult to see ties to ancient competition. A common thread prevails however, and that is the fact that the vast majority of these games rely on extremely fine-tuned skills that humans were (arguably) supposed to have. Golf and baseball for instance, rely on our ability to make and use tools; a 5 iron may be a far cry from a rock used to crack nuts open, but it's a tool nonetheless. We were of course meant to be able to throw things accurately, so football and basketball make sense, and the list of course goes on. The only major sport that troubles me in this regard, is soccer.
There are hundreds of theories as to why soccer is the world's most popular game, but perhaps it's because it is uniquely unnatural. There is no real evolutionary reason for a person to be incredibly gifted and talented at kicking a ball 60 yards, artfully bending its trajectory, or juggling a ball on one's head. Soccer is a game of great skill, but it is also a game based on training your body to do something it was never meant to do. Practically speaking, any skill developed specifically for soccer, generally does not translate to every day life, now or hundreds of years ago.
Why this unnatural quality of a sport would translate to popularity, I don't know. Maybe it was just that; the inherent disbelief that an entire sport could essentially be played without your hands was universally intriguing. Maybe the complete disconnect between a game and every day life was refreshing, particularly in the case of manual laborers who used their hands all day. Or, perhaps the fact that sheer physical prowess did not necessarily equal success, encouraged the masses to try and defy preconceptions of athletic excellence.
Regardless of the reason for its popularity, the fact remains that at least among other mainstream modern sports, soccer is uniquely not human.
For entertainment's sake, the world's finest example of how non-human "the beautiful game" truly is: