The melodic tones of the vuvuzelas have faded, marking the end of yet another exciting World Cup tournament. With Nielsen ratings up compared to the 2006 games and everyone's Twitter feed inundated with little soccer balls, perhaps America is finally catching football fever. But now that the games are over, what do we do with our enthusiasm for international competition? Here are a few alternative World Cups you might want to follow until "The Beautiful Game" rolls around again in four years.
1. The UFO World Cup
The UFO World Cup is one of the premiere competitions for "disc dog," the sport where talented canines snatch Frisbees out of thin air. Founded in 2000, the organization has taken a novel approach to disc dog competitions by using a points system similar to the one used in NASCAR racing. Dogs earn Cup points based upon how well they do in local competitions, which consist of three categories: the Freestyle, a crowd-pleasing favorite where the dogs and their human handlers go through a choreographed routine of disc-catching tricks; the Throw & Catch, which gives the dogs 60 seconds to catch as many discs as they can, scoring points for the distance they travel to make the catch; and the Longshot, where the catches get incrementally farther away.
The dogs with the highest number of World Cup points from their local contests earn a place in one of the nine regional championships held in places like Los Angeles; Houston; Assen, Netherlands; and Karlsruhe, Germany. Then, in September 2010, Cup points leaders from around the globe will convene in San Diego for the World Cup Finals to determine who truly is the head of the pack. With five of the regional contests completed for this year, the UFO leaders include American dogs Maggie, Bayer, Sketch, Bella, and a German dog, Remus. But there are still plenty of local and regional tournaments yet to be played, so it's really any dog's game at this point.
2. The Underwater Rugby World Cup
Sure, you could follow the regular old Rugby World Cup, but how long can those guys hold their breath underwater?
Underwater rugby was developed in 1961 in Germany as a warm-up exercise for diving clubs. The game, which actually resembles basketball more than rugby, pits two teams of six players and five substitutes against one another in a swimming pool about 15' deep. The two sides attempt to score by putting a water polo ball filled with saltwater into a metal basket on the other team's side of the pool. To score, players can swim with or pass the ball in any direction while the other team does their best to regain control of the ball by wrestling it away or intercepting a pass. But players can only participate as long as they can hold their breath, since they only use a snorkel, mask, and swim fins. While the sport is especially popular in Europe, there are a handful of U.S. clubs, as well as some in Venezuela, Colombia, and Australia.
The men's Underwater Rugby World Championship tournament has been held every four years since 1980, with the women's tournament added in 1991. In both competitions, the Europeans dominate, but Colombia has become a strong competitor in recent years. Because the game isn't as popular here, America has struggled to become a serious force. The last time they appeared in the tournament was 2003, when a team of players was assembled from clubs across the country. For those games, the men came in tenth place, while the women fared better, finishing sixth. The next Underwater Rugby World Championship is set to play in 2011.
3. The World Cup Roller Fly
A Birmingham Roller is a breed of pigeon that has an unusual ability—it does backwards somersaults while in flight, giving the illusion that the bird is falling out of the sky. Breeders look for birds who can complete lengthy, tight rolls, and integrate them into a flock, also known as a "kit," of 15 to 20 birds. A well-trained kit will perform this somersault maneuver as a group, sticking close together and rejoining formation simultaneously. When they find a kit that works well, breeders pit them against one another in a competition called a "fly," earning style points awarded by expert judges.
The World Cup Roller Fly was started in 1999 and has been held every year since, featuring the top kits from 40 countries such as Holland, Croatia, South Africa, Australia, and the United States. After regional competitions weed out the less gymnastic birds, a single "fly-off" judge, usually last year's winner, will visit every country to determine the World Cup champion. This year, the winner of the Cup was Eric Laidler of Denmark, whose birds did a solid number of high-quality rolls to soundly take the title with a score of 873 points. But that's still short of the top score in the World Cup Roller Fly, when Holland's Heine Bijker scored an amazing 2,284.80 in the 2007 competition.
4. The Mental Calculation World Cup
If you're looking for a competition that's a bit more cerebral, there's always the Mental Calculation World Cup, held every other year in Germany since 2004. Here, some of the smartest kids from 13 countries compete in mental feats of agility, such as adding ten 10-digit numbers together, calculating as many dates as possible from the years 1600 "“ 2100 in one minute, multiplying sets of two 8-digit numbers, finding the square roots of 6-digit numbers, and six "surprise tasks" of equal mathematical difficulty.
The competition is open to anyone regardless of age, which is good because the 2010 champion, India's Priyanshi Somani, was born in 1998. She scored in the top 10 in every category except for the surprise tasks, besting her closest competitor, 16-year-old Marc Jornet Sanz of Spain, by just 4.3. points. Somani had only been training for the competition for a month, though she practiced five hours a day to get ready. If you think you have what it takes to be a world champion "“ or just want to be marveled at the site of so many numbers—check out the competition's website for sample exercises from previous tournaments.
5. The Homeless World Cup
If these other World Cups aren't striking your fancy, maybe you should try soccer again. This time it's not just for the glory and the honor, but for a good cause, too. Since 2003, the Homeless World Cup has become an annual, week-long soccer tournament with teams from 64 countries made up of people who are currently living on the street. These men and women are given the opportunity to travel to places like Milan, Melbourne, and Edinburgh to play for one of six tournament cups, including the coveted Homeless World Cup.
The matches are governed by street soccer rules, meaning they only last for 15 minutes and the penalties and free kick rules are a little different to help speed up play. Because the skill levels vary greatly—remember, these aren't pros by any means—the matches are generally high-scoring and very exciting. For example, in the 2006 Cape Town, South Africa, tournament, 300 matches were played with over 1800 goals scored, for an average of six goals per match. Compare that to the 1-0 final in the FIFA World Cup this year.
While it's great for a team to come home with the Cup raised high, the really important thing is that the experience makes a difference in peoples' lives. Research conducted after the tournaments consistently shows that players have made significant changes after the games, with most of them going on to find jobs, find a home, or get into rehab for drug or alcohol dependency. But the program doesn't just support the tournament, it also helps fund smaller soccer teams year-round in 70 countries, benefiting over 40,000 homeless players, and giving them a new lease on life.
The next Homeless World Cup is set to kick-off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 19.