World Cup 2010: Interview with Steven and Harrison Stark

Steven Stark and Harrison Stark are the authors of World Cup 2010: The Indispensable Guide to Soccer and Geopolitics recently published by Blue River Press.   The book combines humor, soccer knowledge and a bit history to discuss the World Cup from a variety of angles.  In addition to in depth previews of each team, the book also provides discussion on the politics of hosting, the background of the tournament and offers some predictions on the result.  The first part of the book provides context for the event, while the team guides will be a great companion for  fans looking for insight into the teams on the field.

The Starks were kind enough to take a few questions from us about their book, the politics of the World Cup and the games coming to South Africa.  Thanks to the Starks for a few minutes. The book discusses the impact of the first African World Cup and addresses the politics, geography and climate that will make 2010 unique.  Recent reports indicate that ticket sales for South Africa are falling well short of expectations. How do you believe those elements that make South Africa a such a unique destination for the World Cup are affecting ticket sales?  Why are fans staying away?

Steven Stark/Harrison Stark:  There are a couple of things going on here.  It’s a long trip to South Africa for everyone – and an expensive one too. We’re in the middle of the worst economic downturn in over a half century, so money is tight. And, any time you put the World Cup in a locale that is not one of the leading industrial nations of the world, some people are going to be scared away.

For the home nation, we write in the book that like everything else in South Africa, the nation’s attitude to the sport is inextricably tied to the history of apartheid. Most whites in South Africa are more cricket and rugby fans than soccer ones. So that’s a sizable part of a potential audience, too, that may not be buying tickets.

FB: In addition to the geopolitical and historical elements, the book also provides detailed information on each team coming to South Africa.  Was the book  written for the “hard core” soccer fan or someone watching soccer for the first time.  How did you balance the difference in knowledge and interest among your target readers?

SS/HS:  We tried to reach both audiences. In a sense, the chapter introductions may be more geared to a first-time fan (along with the country profiles), while the team discussions are more geared to the hard core fan.

FB: The book offers a series of predictions about the results and classifies teams based on their level of expectation.  What is your basis for those predictions?

SS/HS: Well, we watch a lot of soccer and read a lot about it too. But in the book, we make the point that the World Cup is unusual in that pedigree tends to count for an enormous amount in trying to determine who will do well. A very small set of countries – namely Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Italy – tends to dominate this tournament. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win again but they’re always the best bets.

FB: What efforts have been made to market the book?  Have you been doing book signings and radio/TV interviews?  What types of stores will be carrying the book?

SS/HS: Hopefully the book is available everywhere, both on line in places such as Amazon and in stores. We are doing a tour featuring New England, New York, and California and we will be doing a fair number of radio/TV interviews. Information about all those is available on the book website ( and on . We’re also analyzing the Cup for

FB: The cover depicts two prominent players (Ronaldinho and Beckham) who will not feature for their national teams? Was thought given to changing the cover to reflect that reality?  Do you think that “hard core” fans will be turned off by the cover photo?

SS/HS: Don’t judge the book by its cover! Yes Beckham got hurt after we had gone to press. But no, it’s too late to change things now.

FB: Finally, given soccer’s place on the American sports landscape, why do Americans purchase more tickets than any other country for the World Cup?  What does that mean for the future of the game in the United States?

SS/HS: It’s certainly a hopeful sign but one shouldn’t read too much into it. As we said before, this is a hard Cup for anyone to get to, and we’re a wealthy and large country so we have more fans available who can make the trip. Last year’s run to the Confederations Cup final may also have convinced some Americans that this team has a chance to do well.