This is a blog post by one of our contributing authors. Dr. Martin Forward is a British, Methodist Christian lecturer and author on religion and Professor of History at Aurora University. He has taught Islam at the Universities of Leicester, Bristol and Cambridge, and had spent a period of time in India where he was ordained into the Church of South India. He was also a member of the Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity. He has authored a number of books related to both Islam and Christianity.
Teams have come to Brazil from Asia and the Americas, Africa and Europe, to see which national team will triumph and take home, not just the World Cup, but glory. Glory is that elusive quality that soccer players strive after and sometimes, just for a moment, experience, if they’re very talented and wonderfully fortunate. Glory’s the English translation of a religious word that means ‘God’s very presence’ which, in this life, is striven after, glimpsed, but never nailed down. Someone said to the great Liverpool manager, Bill Shankley: ‘To you football is a matter of life or death!’ and he replied ‘Listen, it’s more important than that’. To watch high-class soccer is to see great virtues come together: commitment, talent, athletic grace, the ability to seize the moment, breath-taking team-play along with moments of individual magic, faith in oneself and others: and so on. In a world shattered by violence, a sport and an event that can draw forth such virtues, and also bring together teams from countries at odds with each other like the USA and Iran, must surely have lots going for it?
Well, maybe. As is often the case, the use and misuse of money throws a long shadow on the World Cup. The game sometimes seems as much about gold as glory: last year, Cristiano Ronaldo earned $49 million in salary and bonus alone, playing for the world’s richest team, Real Madrid, which is worth $3.4 billion, in a country, Spain, that’s struggled after the recession and where one quarter of the work force is unemployed. Of course, there’s no doubt that Ronaldo is a player of genius and that he deserves great wealth more than some (shall we say) less talented bankers and business people who make a killing, sometimes immorally at others’ expense, on the stock market. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that the government of Brazil has spent much money on the infrastructure necessary to put on a good soccer show. The costs are estimated between $15 and $20 billion, from which it will recoup only $500 million in tourism: is this the best use of a country’s resources?
There’s also the equally long shadow of violence. In the 1970s and 80s, the many acts of unprovoked violence by English soccer fans watching their teams abroad, were shameful. These days, the violence of host countries is often problematic, sometimes inviting the question of whether decent people should even be there. Brazil has, for example, long faced international criticism for its failure to protect the Amazon and its threatened peoples; and about 250,000 mostly poor people were removed, or threatened with removal, from their homes to accommodate the World Cup tournament. In other sports, too, the host’s use of violence is often difficult to stomach. This year’s Sochi Olympics in Russia, coinciding with unrest and repression at Russia’s border with Ukraine, is a particularly good (or bad) example.
So, the World Cup mixes magic and mischief, beauty and ugliness, hospitality and exclusivity, in a heady cocktail. It’s a microcosm of what humans are capable of, for good and ill. Sometimes, any sensible person chills at the childishness and entitlement of some soccer-playing drama queen. Yet, that same man can, by exercising his talent, thrill us with a transcendent moment of surpassing glory.
The views expressed in Niagara Foundation’s blog by contributing authors do not necessarily reflect the views of the Niagara Foundation or our staff.