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The beautiful game contests the unlovely

Published: 
Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Greek City States halted their many and constant wars amongst and between each other to contest the Olympic Games; so essential was sport to their lives.

At the end of those games, the City States resumed their battles as if there was no truncation of hostilities. Reflecting on that pattern of civilisation, CLR James asked the question: “What do men live by”?

21st century World Cup contests and Olympic Games have taken on somewhat of a similar pattern. The major difference today, there is no cessation of hostilities between and amongst nations in perennial contest for territory, economic superiority, cultural dominance inclusive of ethnic and tribal superiority, one over the other.

Contemporary everyday life also joins the nations in potential world-destroying military blow-outs. The verbal jostling was recently centred on the issue of which country has the biggest nuclear button and bomb and which is most disposed to press it first.

As depicted on our sporting television screens, the viewer cannot help but be struck by the range of nations, regions, continents, ethnicities, tribes, language groups contesting for football superiority, and the glory of simply being amongst the top 32 footballing nations of the world.

The continents and seas are criss-crossed, Asia, South, and Central America, Europe, Africa, Russia, Australia, the Middle East. If T&T had not effectively dismissed the United States in the qualifiers, traditional sharp ideological differences between the East and West would have found another ground to play out their differences.

Whatever else is said about them, history will record that it was Jack Warner and Sepp Blatter who spread participation across continents and nations from concentration on Europe and South America. On the football field, black Africans are finding space amongst the major players on a number of European country teams; a black defender in the German squad would have sent Hitler into a state of apoplexy
Pure ethnicities and a bewildering variety of mixtures and admixtures are on show; white Scandinavians interact with Amerindians; black Africans, Asians, Latinos, Middle Eastern Arabs, Christians and Muslims, Buddhists bounce shoulders with atheists and other non-believers all engaged in a common effort to establish their nations in the “beautiful game.”

Industrial and commodity producers, continental-sized countries contest against islands, the wealthy clash with poverty-stricken nations, developed and underdeveloped drink at the same well, and there is no assurance that the large, rich, and white will prevail–Mexico humbled Germany.

And while nationalism is at the cutting edge of the contests, many of the teams have taken on the character of the multi-national corporation operating in a globalised world.

Coaches are bought, the citizenships of players are re-minted, and there is much copying of playing systems and strategies. The previous unique samba styles of the Brazilians have been adopted and adapted.
Similarly, the mechanical defending of post-war European soccer, which emphasised defence, has been incorporated into football cultures which did not experience the wars.

Those endeared by magic, dribbling, and the open play of football of another era settle for utility play shorn of romanticism but we are relieved that the weapons on display are not manufactured to kill and maim.

Nationalists, with the colour of their flags running through their veins, acquire the adrenalin to empower them to travel thousands of miles to populate stadia spread over once battlefields of ideology and weapons.

Most importantly, for at least one month trade wars, contesting political ideologies, deadly nuclear weaponry, verbal battles, border conflicts, battles over economic superiority and much more, while they continue to exist, do not dominate our consciousness.

The unlovely is wiped from our consciousness as we eagerly witness the value of human skill, resilience, and artistic expression. The quality of human interaction, notwithstanding the ferocity of the contest between and amongst national identities, ethnicities and the ways of life, easily replaces our world of conflict and strife.

Realistically though, the staging of these grand pageants is not universally perceived as being all positive notwithstanding the rich human, sporting, and cultural interaction amongst widely varying nations.

In Brasil, both in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup and Olympics, there were strident and massively vocal protests against the displays of opulence in the midst of crippling poverty.

How does universal man make permanent that which is beautiful and uplifting, generous, tolerant, and appreciative of all humanity? It’s the challenge of this century.

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