This summer, thanks to another World Cup win, the United States saw a huge uptick in the number of people who tune into and care deeply about soccer. While this viewership and enthusiasm is somewhat newer in the U.S., soccer — or football, as it’s known in most other countries — has long been a huge force for unity and cultural pride around the world. 

With the 2022 World Cup being hosted by Qatar, we partnered with our friends at Qatar Airways to learn and celebrate what soccer means to people around the world. In our Instagram challenge #PPUnitedbySport, we asked our followers to share a photo with a caption about why they love the game, and how it has inspired their travels. After all, football’s four billion worldwide fans are testament to the power of the sport — its energy and magnetism, its ability to bring communities together and unite people around a common good. 

Football as we know it today originated in England in the 19th century, but variations of the game date back as far as 2,000 years ago, in China and Ancient Greece. These versions were often more violent and allowed to play with the hands, a far cry from contemporary football. Regardless, the persistence of the sport over the millennia emphasizes its lasting cultural importance. 

soccer around the world nicholas green
Photo by Nicholas Green.

Although professional football has been an international game for a long time, the game’s globalization really began in the 1990s. One of the world’s best teams, the English Premier League club Manchester City, is England’s pride. Despite being the country’s champions, the team rarely has more than one or two English players in the starting lineup, and even has a Spanish head coach. Even still, City is England’s star team, and a reminder of the ways in which football erases borders between countries and communities.

At the same time, however, football is as much about patriotism as it is about athleticism; with every goal and subsequent cheer, players and spectators build upon a history of victories and rivalries, of challenge and exchange — both on and off the field. Above all, football is more than just a game: whether it’s a country rooting for its team in the World Cup, or a multinational team in the Premier League, football transcends differences between people, and unites them — either through community or competition.

In other words, football is the great equalizer. The beauty and power of the game is that it can be played anywhere — as long as you have a ball, it doesn’t matter whether you’re under the lights at Camp Nou, in the city square, or barefoot with friends scoring goals between two trees. Football is the world’s game, so no matter where you are around the globe, you’ll always find common ground. More than anything, football is more than just a game — it says something about the countries involved and the people who have made it their passion.

What other sports have inspired inclusivity?

Header image by John O’ Nolan. Words by Hope Allison.