it’s been passion and pride this June

I’ve confirmed it. If there’s anything that unites millions of fans across the globe, it’s the World Cup soccer. It’s got many of us up and shouting in queer places at odd hours, betting and speculating, giving 101% support to the teams we want to win.

Lately I’ve been thinking that  instead of investing so much money in NGO’s and foundations for peace movements, civil society and the like, perhaps what we ought to do is organize soccer tournaments between warring nations. The time it takes to prepare for the game, put up the right infrastructure, beef up security, food, and other provisions would at least keep the countries away from war. Assuming of course that the soccer game itself doesn’t end up in fist fights and gunshots, throwing both players and civilians in an unforgettable scene of carnage. First, focus on the possible positive results.

Imagine Somalia playing against Eritrea and the former having to summon all their pirates to soccer fields. It’s common knowledge that peace, if any, is at its weakest in these two countries. Now figure them ending the violence on the streets, homes, water and sand dunes because dignitaries and folks from other countries would be coming over to watch a soccer game. That would give both countries at least four years of peaceful existence, and even after the game, they’d have other games to prepare for. Before they know it, they’d realize the importance of sports, recreation and non-violent means to peace. Ethiopia could play with Kenya, Congo and Sudan, Guinea and Chad, Mauritania and Niger and so on. By the time all the 57 African countries are done playing against one another, a lesson or two in unity would be scored.

The best of the best would then move on to a kind of African cup, but for a start they all have to participate. It could really work. And we’d get involved in another country’s life and infrastructure in a good way. We would build stadiums in Somali and tell those warmongers that there’s nothing wrong with soccer. Allah himself gets happy when a good ball is kicked. Sudan would take the time to get its team right, which would mean both northern and southern Sudan would spend some quality hours talking together. And instead of playing the matches from one country we would at least select four, regionally, or along language lines. Start all the games in one country, quarterfinals in another, semifinals, then last the finals. The work of the African Union could very easily be simplified, if any work, anyway. Whatever happens after 2010, it’s been a joy to watch the African teams playing really well. Some strong on team work, others as individuals on shooting, goal-keeping, defense and attacking and so on.

When Ghana beat the USA to enter the next leg, supporters on both sides had something emotional to say. It’s like soccer had moved through the world of rationalization and entered a highly charged emotional field. There were tears, joy, hope, sadness, and one newspaper, to put it sentimentally, said, “Ghana crushed American dreams and delivered African joy.” I haven’t known another time since the matches started when great enthusiasm and vuvuzuelas climaxed at the final hour and pure relief and bliss won the day. For one like me who doesn’t watch soccer often, who, in fact, only watches World Cup and like two games in African Cup, I acknowledge there’s so much potential that soccer presents better than any political or peace movement I have known, in terms of sharing love, inspiring hope and good pride, dignity, dreams, confidence, integrity, justice, redemption, prosperity, and coexistence. Thanks to South Africa for rising to the occasion. Hopefully in the future, there will be many other games organized in Africa, especially, and many of us will then know a new definition of peace–a soccer ball played, watched and enjoyed by all.

Funny I hadn’t set out to write about soccer, but there’s no way I’ll make a June entry and skip the hope that soccer gives, the passion and pride. It’s all been good, no matter what the end will turn out to be. My truest sympathies go to North Korea which suffered greatly at the hands of many stronger and organized teams. And my greatest respects to all the teams that have played so well, regardless of where they hail from.

At the end of the day it’s not who takes the cup, really, that’s the most important. It’s the joy, grace and gift of appreciation that the teams give us as we watch.For those countries that are still in, bring the ball. Keep playing. Keep us screaming for more, happy and dazzled.

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