What a summer for sports. The World Cup, Tour de France and Wimbledon. It has to have made you cheer...or gag. Michael Schumacher, the Formula One driver made $80 million US in 2004 (in 2005, he became the first billionaire athlete according to EuroBusiness magazine, not available online) and Tiger Woods made $80.3 million US. And young NBA phenom Lebron James is likely to turn his nose up at $80 million for five years.
Come to think of it, Woods earns more in a year than the total GDP of several countries. This at a moment when news headlines have people wondering: how many athletes are still clean? Can we trust their new records? Is sport too violent? Is Zidane's butt (via the head) worth all the attention? Or is sport a mere spectacle diverting our attention from weightier matters? Our obsession with athletics has spawned a new term: "sporno" (the idea that athletes and sport are the new pornography).
So how important, really, are sports? Here's what surveyed people in various nations recently have said:
In Brazil, soccer outranks natural beauty, culture and music as a source of national pride. For more, click here,
Argentina's list of greatest living persons places current president Néstor Kirchner in second place, behind soccer star Diego Armando Maradona and higher than NBA player Emanuel Ginóbili. For more, click here.
In Chile, tennis player Nicolás Massú was second only to the president in a year-end list of figures. For more, click here.
In Canada, Terry Fox (#2) and Wayne Gretzky (#8) made the list of greatest Canadians in 2004. For more, go here.
In Peru, three-in-10 people think the Copa América soccer tournament was one of Alejandro Toledo's most positive acts as president. For more information, click here.
In Croatia, soccer coach Miroslav Blazevic, who had taken the country to a fourth-place finish in the 1998 World Cup, was drafted as a presidential candidate due to name recognition. He barely registered on the public opinion sphere. For more information, click here.
In the United States, 88 per cent of respondents say athletes have a responsibility to lead, but only 39 per cent think they actually do so. For more information, click here.
A third of Americans think that the average baseball player's salary, $2.6 million US a year, is too much. For more information, click here.
When the U.S. baseball steroid scandal broke, only 22 per cent of Americans wanted Congress to get involved in cleaning up the sport. For more information, click here.
When Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was put on trial for sexual assault, Americans were evenly divided on whether he was guilty. Bryant was eventually acquitted. For more information, click here.
Finally, 79 per cent of Americans think their country is more accepting of gays in sports today than it was 20 years ago. For more information, click here.
Related Tyee stories: Christopher Grabowski photographed World Cup fever on Vancouver's Commercial Drive; Yolanda Brooks asked if cheering for a non-Canadian team makes her a traitor; and Laurie Mercer reports from the frontlines of the World Cup here and here.