For past few weeks I have been delighted to witness the World Cup, both as a fan of the sport and as a guest in a country that is still discovering “the beautiful game”, soccer. According to FIFA reports some 3.2 billion people more than 46.4 percent of the world population would have watched some or other part of the World Cup. I’ve seen people who aren’t typically sports fans pausing to see the results of the national team as well as rabid fans rooting for the United States team as well as the countries of their ethnic and ancestral homes.
During these days nothing has unified our fractious world like soccer. The World Cup provides us all with teachable moments within the matches. It’s a chance for people throughout the world to express their nationalism in a positive way, and for each of us to learn about other people and cultures through sport. The beauty of the tournament is that with the exception of a few “biting” moments these lessons are learned peacefully.
I am reminded of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa where new South African President Nelson Mandela urged his young nation to rally behind the Springboks, a team that had long-been a symbol of the institutionalized prejudice in the apartheid government. For him the unity, celebration and catharsis of sports served as a rallying cry for a sense of place and identity that South Africa as a whole needed at the time. He claimed that, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.”
The World Cup can be that for all of us as well. On the sports field the banker and the farmer, the millionaire and the unemployed person come together as equals to form team with a sense of social cohesion.
The much larger teachable moment in sport is that of cohesiveness. Irrespective our mother tongues, our jobs and the colors of our jerseys we belong to the human family who share a common planetary home, the earth. We can spend our days circling the field, waiting for the pass that may never come, or we can miss a wide open net, but the important thing to remember is that we have to use all our God given gifts, spiritual and economic resources to make a difference in our world.
In Paul’s writing sport is used as a metaphor for spiritual maturity…….. (I Cor 9:24-27) As we cheer on our national teams in the hope that they may score a goal and win, let us solicit the same passion and fervor in our faith commitment and spiritual disciplines to score a goal for justice and peace in our world.