Football in Australia: “The World Game” – Is this marketing phrase a tad deceptive?

“The World Game” is a clever marketing phrase for the game of soccer created by the SBS soccer guru of Les Murray. Both Murray and his close friend Craig Foster have been particularly fond of using this slogan as a way of promoting their preferred sport of soccer. Yet like a lot of clever marketing slogans unfortunately the term “The World Game” is a tad misleading.



Les Murray in his book refers to the first time he utilised this phrase as if it was a thunderbolt instruction from God and how he thought it would “woo more converts to the true faith.” Murray appeared overjoyed when he stated in his book, By The Balls, “Today, football (soccer) is referred to as the ‘world game’ not just by its fans but by even its enemies.”





Before Murray hyperventilates any further though one would have to point out some errors in his estimation of soccer being “the world game”. For starters, he seems to conclude that the whole world is one homogenized mass enamored with soccer, yet he completely overlooks the fact that people have different sporting interests even in so-called soccer-mad countries. Some people in these countries even dare to prefer swimming, golf, hockey, basketball, tennis and rugby amongst other sporting activities. Perhaps these people can be deemed as being defective in some way for not falling in love with “the world game”.



That isn’t to say that soccer is the only sport to have overreached with its marketing. One slogan the AFL had back in the early 1990s was “Australian rules rules Australia”. This clearly was not the case then and they have a long way to go before many people in this country even adopt the Australian code as a point of curiousity. And then there is rugby league’s “greatest game of all” moniker which seems more hyperbole than reality. Yet this article is focused on “The World Game” as this phrase has resonated unlike the others mentioned and seems to have gained traction. Is this traction justified?


In England, the home of association football, recent surveys have indicated that more people participate in athletics and in swimming than in soccer[1]. Is it right to give soccer “the world game”moniker if even in England, the home ground of soccer, it is being outpointed in participation numbers by swimming? Shouldn’t it be a pre-requisite for the status of the “world game” to be number one in England?  Les Murray has quite a bit of work to do to get the homogenized world he is aiming for.




The other aspect that makes “The World Game” phrase misleading is the requirement to ignore the countries and peoples in the world that were ingenious enough to create their own sports before the English introduced the game of soccer into their countries. For example, Japan has the home-grown sports of sumo-wrestling, karate, judo and kendo.



All of these sports, as they are Japanese, have a special place in the sporting landscape of Japan. Kendo has over 1.6 million participants in Japan, and there are over 50 million participants of karate worldwide. Instead of England exporting their sporting culture to Japan, in this instance Japan has successfully exported their sporting culture around the world.





Another country that hasn’t fallen under the spell of soccer is Canada. Just like the Japanese, the Canadians were ingenious enough to create their own sports. In particular, they created the sports of Canadian football and ice-hockey. The passion Canadians have for ice-hockey is well renowned. I have met Canadian supporters of the Calgary Flames, and they have just as much vitriol and hatred directed towards the Vancouver Canucks as what an MCG full of Carlton and Collingwood fans have for each other.



In Canada, unlike Australia, they are even audacious enough to refer to soccer by the phrase “soccer” in their newspapers and call Canadian football “football”. Perhaps the newspaper editors of papers such as The Vancouver & Toronto Sun haven’t been given the word that there is a new world order and the “The World Game” is at the centre of that order. Here’s hoping Les Murray can get on the phone immediately and rectify this situation.





Then there are the countries of Australia, Ireland, Thailand, India, the United States & China amongst others that have locally devised sports and leisure activities that by and large have priority over the game exported from England known as soccer or by Les as “The World Game”. The home grown product here in Australia obviously being Australian “rules” football, which was created many years prior to soccer, rugby league and American football.




Americans located in Boston, for example, are even crazy enough to waste their time supporting the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics and the New England Patriots in baseball, basketball and American Football respectively. If only the Bostonians knew the errors of their ways. If only they knew more about what Les Murray refers to as “The World Game”. Perhaps this is calling for Les as well – to “educate” these ignorant Americans about where they have gone wrong.




But back to the game of soccer, there is no doubt it is vastly popular in most countries around the world, but there is an element of hubris in play when one refers to it as “The World Game” as if people’s other interests are somehow not worthy enough to be noted. Does McDonalds label itself as “The World’s Restaurant” due to its popularity or does their management accept that there are people that actually prefer to dine out on Italian, Greek and Thai food amongst countless other variations? I would like to think they are not arrogant enough to give themselves the title of “The World’s Restaurant”.



For some people, McDonalds is not even a restaurant option even though they have been given the word via various media outlets about how popular McDonalds is worldwide. How many restaurants do they have now? I heard they have over 30,000 restaurants worldwide. For some people this statistic may be impressive, but surely it doesn’t really matter how popular McDonalds is as long as people have the option of dining out on other food. Similarly, some of us actually prefer to dine out on other sporting options other than soccer, no matter how crazy it must seem to Les and Craig.



There is no doubt Les’s phrase is clever, as it makes it seem it is inevitable that we Australians will fall in line with some new world order where soccer is played and nothing else. Yet if soccer is to be accurately deemed “The World Game” it should have to be the most popular sport in every country across the world and be universally respected, but as we have seen there are many countries where people have decided to have interest in other sports, and that is even after these people have known about the existence of soccer. Some of these countries even like basketball, baseball, other forms of football and cricket more than soccer. Maybe they just need to be educated by Les and Craig and then we can all rest easy knowing that “The World Game” is coming to enrich your life and make the world a better place.






  1. Interesting read but disagree 100%. Soccer is definitely the world game if you look at the number of nations that participate and seek qualification for the world cup. There are more members of fifa than there are countries in the world! The world cup is the single largest sporting event in the world and typically around 20% of the world’s population watches the final (estimated at more than 1 billion for the 2014 world cup final) by way of comparison America’s biggest football event, the superbowl, had approximately 170 million. Our own AFL grand final was 2.8 million (in Australia only not sure of international). Each continental championship is generally considered the peak sporting competition outside of the world cup (eg. the Euro’s andAfrican Cup of Nations)

    I have had the fortune to travel interstate a bit for work and study and the one constant is the number of social games of soccer I find and the willingness of people to accept someone wanting a kick. As someone that has also played country footy, a bit of union and other ball sports I can safely say soccer is more accessible, easier to participate in and as a community more welcoming than most other sports.

    The claim that soccer/association football is the world game may be somewhat arrogant but is undoubtedly true. Soccer is the best known game across the globe and no matter what country you travel too someone will be playing. To put the boot on the other foot if you were asked to nominate another sport as the world game what would you suggest?

    Cheers Cam

  2. Soccer the world game rugby union the game they play in heaven rugby league the people’s game and Aussie rules the australia game of our own invention

    All codes of football have their places and it’s great to have kids (and adults) play any sport than just staying at home on the computer

    When it’s comes to all our codes of football lets be truly multicultural and learn to respect them all

  3. There can be no argument. Soccer is most definitely the World Game. Riddled with off and on field violence and racism, rotten to the core at the top, made toxic by money, cursed with a frustrating set of rules that puts the outcome in the hands of one adjudicator and two linesmen, and a scoring system that is too easily manipulated for financial gain by the participants. Oh, and it has drawn to itself a fanatical following that will kill for the cause. Yep, she’s the World Game alright.

  4. Miles Wilks says

    Cam, good arguments. I see where you are coming from. What I find is that slick advertising such the “The World Game” or Coca-Cola’s “open happiness” is just that – slick advertising. The whole world is not overawed with soccer as Craig and Les would like to think it is.

    We perhaps think it is the case as we are bombarded with images on our tv screens of soccer clubs from Spain, England, Italy etc…but are we bombarded with images of American football teams? basketball teams in China? baseball in Japan? The Indian cricket?

    (Did you know that there are reportedly over 300 million participants of basketball in China- do they fit within Les’s new world order or not?)

    Perhaps our perception is swayed by what we see on the news each night. The only overseas reports are generally on EPL, some motor racing or some other soccer. Is that a fair representation of international sport on our screens?

    Perhaps a more accurate but less slick advertising slogan for soccer would be:
    England”s game – we have proudly exported it to many places around the world.

  5. Regardless of whether or not its the World game or not, the soccer mob should not be expropriating the name – football – in this country. Enormously disrespectful. And untrue. As Tim Harcourt points out there are four codes of football in Australia Miles, I like your reference to soccer as, Association Football.

  6. Miles Wilks says

    Yes, I agree Dr Rocket. What do the media people base ownership of the title “football” on in this country? the one that has been here longest, whether it is of Australian origin, whether it is the most popular overseas or other criteria? I would like to know.

    I do know that the world would be a very bland place if we only ate at McDonalds. Similarly, if we only followed association football/soccer it would be similarly bland.

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