Sacred sport

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Monday, July 14, 2014


WITH the influence of the great Bern Garcia, I was recently hooked to watching football matches in the 2014 World Cup tournament in Brazil. Although my favorite sport is cockfighting, I saw something in football that changes my view with the sport.

First, it was the Brazilian national anthem. Then the German hymn followed. I have no Brazilian or German blood, but I could hardly hold back my tears. And it was because of envy.

While the anthems are filling the air of the jampacked Belo Horizonte stadium, I imagined faces of Filipinos waving the Philippine flag and cheering a squad of young brown campaigners as the band played the “Lupang Hinirang.”

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Yes, there are many other sports and global competitions like tennis, bowling, boxing, and track and field. Above all, there is basketball, which has infected Filipino sports fans. But none of these games can compare with the ethos and soul of football that make it the world’s No. 1 sport.

This is the only sport in which commercialism cannot defeat nationalism. This is the only sport wherein a Lionel Messi chose to be Argentinian. And this is the only sport the Brazilians call a way of life.

When a football player kicks, he is kicking away a national cancer that makes his country fettered. When a goalie blocks a goal, he is demonstrating resistance to a foreign power trying to manipulate the affairs of his nation.

And when a player bumps the ball with his head, he is making a revolutionary statement and at the same time warning his fellow citizens about an impending threat.

Of course, the championship is the most important. But in World Cup, it means a lot when a team has successfully expressed a national sentiment. When Belgium defeated the United States, that was enough for the members of the team and the Belgian people.

The World Cup is like a world war fought every four years. It is a war fought by forces without guns, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. It is a fair war fought through human strength, human aspirations, nationalism, and patriotism.

One possible reason why the United States does not excel in world football is that the Americans do not have enough nationalist fervor to invest in.

The US may be rich, but their players are of different nationalities who are simply out on the field to earn big bucks. That kind of attitude cannot be a good foundation for the American flag to hang on.

The point is individualism, material rewards, and selfish pursuits which a capitalist culture extols, can only spell failure in the World Cup. Maybe they ensure success in other sporting events, but not in football.

Only in World Cup can one find real games. And more than real games, expressions of political, cultural or economic struggles. Perhaps, football can turn into the most violent event, but even that can be traced to patriotic fervor, a distortion of noble sentiment.

Hardly anyone blames the Colombian fan who shot Andres Escobar, the Colombian defender, whose own goal eliminated Colombia against the US in the 1994 World Cup.

The Colombian fan’s act can be likened to the jailing of Erap Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for being traitors to the Filipino people.

Every emotion in football translates into deeper things, even metaphysical ones. So nobody should ask why the Chinese, even if their football team did not qualify, still watched the World Cup.

The reason the Asians put up with the madness is that they want to have their own dreams fulfilled and put their country on the world map. They crave for the opportunity to reveal on the world stage their secret passion and religion.

That is, the game of football, a sacred sport.--By Ferdinand C. Cañete

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 15, 2014.

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