Last Thursday I made a call to put in a medical supply order. A young man answered the phone, but, ignoring me, he kept talking in a language I could not understand, and I assumed he just had a strong foreign accept. I kept saying “Hello!” but no answer, and I kept hearing background voices getting louder and louder. Finally a great explosion of noise, and the person who answered eventually was back on line. I said, “It sounds like you are listening to the World Cup.” He apologized because, he said, the match was in the last moments and down to a penalty kick shoot out that I had interrupted. We waited for a few more minutes to chat before we finished the transaction. I was pleased to be able to be included in the young man’s exhilaration, and I forgave him for his temporary lapse of phone etiquette. I consider the interrupted phone call typical of the fervor and thrill that the World Cup created. (Croatia won over heavily favored Brazil 4-2 on penalty kicks. No wonder the excitement!)
I tell this story not because I want to talk about the soccer games themselves, but about the extraordinary planetary unity and common bonds they have created. I am not much of a soccer fan, and I don’t really understand the nuances of the game. But what I do understand is that soccer is the premier international sport, played by millions of people across the globe, young and old, rich and poor, men and women. And all you need is a ball and a couple of makeshift goals and a bit of cleared land. Everywhere I have traveled or lived soccer in some form was enjoyed. And some of my favorite personal memories of soccer were when our boys were young, and we lived in an international community that featured Sunday afternoon pick up games when young and old, of all abilities, were invited to chase the ball around and enjoy the fullness of community play. And I can also imagine a common love of a game throughout the world that elicits memories of cherished childhood heroes and dreams of one’s one heroics on the playground or team matches.
Although I did not watch any full World Cup matches on TV (I streamed the highlights later), I imagined millions and millions of people of every class watching the games from various rural and urban settings, in villages and city plazas, cheering their favorite team, but mostly just getting caught up in the drama of the athleticism and personal stories of the players and the melodramas of the winners and losers. All this instantaneously shared on an international stage that included teams from all the continents, with players of all shades of skin and style, with a whole range of religious and political beliefs, creating a panorama of a world I sometimes can only imagine. Losers painfully but graciously accepted their loss. Winners shared their gratitudes with, yes, a good dose of male hubris, but also often with tearful joy and relief. From what I understand, in spite of the intense competition, there was genuine mutual respect among the players and with the referees. It was, in short, a tribute to world peace.
I especially like the name for the competition. It is the World...Cup. It is a “cup" that holds and salutes a fairly universal portion of our whole world’s humanity. When the World Cup is over we know it was still just a game, but we know it also celebrated a brief period of time when the exhilaration of a world commons could be shared peaceably by all.
Peace and cheers,
I can’t resist adding a footnote that I would like to suggest the political world might consider the World Cup model for how to order world affairs. The “rules” might include: mutual respect among the representative nations and their players; instant replay to settle disputes; fair refereeing that can issue yellow and red cards for unsportsmanlike conduct, including sending the offenders temporarily off the field; losers that accept a loss but who can assume they will be back to play in another round; winners do so graciously; and all within the transparency that allows the world to view and share the leaderships' successes and failures and provide a final judgement of their “coaches” competence by rehiring them or choosing an alternative leadership and style.