Sunday, July 18, 2010
The real world cup
(This meditation was preached in the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College chapel on June 30, 2010)
Luke 10: 25-28.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
The football world cup 2010 is on in full swing and has reached the quarterfinal stage. People all over the world, including India are sitting glued in front of their television sets, even betting over the outcome of the matches. South Africa is being presented as a paradise on earth hosting a global event. But in the thrill, glamour and glitter of a sporting event we are being misled into believing that this event will unite countries and bring hope and opportunities to ordinary South Africans and others world wide.
The theme for this week is ‘Hope amidst diversity: Communicating hope in multi-faith Asia.’ Sport is definitely one way of communicating hope in an otherwise hope-less context. But are sporting events like the world cup the hope that we are waiting for? The song “Give me hope Joanna” by Eddy Grant was a protest against the South African regime which practised apartheid and racism. And yet a few years later South Africa is being projected as if all this has been wiped away from its land. But the truth is that 16 years after the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa racism still exists and the poorest of the poor remain the same. This world cup has seen a huge increase in women and child trafficking to satisfy the heavy demand for illegal sex. Several of the poor who lived near the gigantic stadiums built for the world cup, have been evicted from their homes and relocated to tin shacks. So even though the world cup is packaged as hope to many, what it really grants is satisfaction to a few. Football and sports do have a role in providing hope but grand events like the world cup end up perpetrating injustice against many. But this does not mean that local sports and games follow the same pattern. They form the ultimate launch pad for hope in small and local communities. The unofficial ‘Poor people’s world cup’ in South Africa is such an initiative involving thousands of people who won’t get a ticket to watch a game in their own country.
Luke 10:25-38 has Jesus asking a lawyer to recount what is written in the law regarding eternal life. He replies, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself. Those into sports will definitely know that the three things which a sportsperson needs are strength, a good mind and a large heart. But the completeness of this is attained only when we love our neighbour as ourselves and therefore the best sportspersons are also the ones who respect their opponents. Who is our neighbour is a relevant question in this discussion and the story of the Good Samaritan should be a model for us to follow. But in a world where we are divided by caste, class, religion, gender and race, are we willing to claim our neighbour? The problem we face today is that despite having a biblical mandate to love our neighbour, we go around this by limiting our neighbours to those in our own community, caste and race. Thus for hope to transpire we have to claim our neighbours.
The football world cup is being sold using theme songs and catchy tunes. The official world cup coca cola song by K’naan, and the song by Shakira have caught the imagination of people. An examination of the lyrics of Shakira's song suggests that nothing has changed. It seems that a war on the football field is happening and the players are supposed to fight till the finish, calling upon their God to help them. This way of presenting the world cup resembles the gladiator battles in Roman coliseums. People attended in large numbers and encouraged the gladiators to kill each other. This also helped the Roman emperors to detach the minds of the people from the real issues facing them. Advertisers are spending millions of dollars to package hope and freedom through their products. Sports and games, football included should not be a means of denying hope but reclaiming hope. This is the challenge before us. One should note that coca cola made K’naan rewrite parts of the song to fit their global need. The original song was much more like the Give me hope Joanna song. Are we then willing to see through this skewed concept of hope? Are we also willing to listen to alternative voices like the local version of the world cup song from Kerala?
Are we willing to realise the existence of hope, claim our neighbours and re-claim hope? We all know the Messi’s, the Kakka’s, the Forlan’s, the Lee Chung-yong’s, the Mueller’s, the Rooney’s, the Drogba’s, and the Khune’s. But do we know Senthil, Prabhakar, Binu, Shiju, Moa, Chinza, David, Ranbir, Sajish, Tasha, Nilu, Riya, Mona and Anushka? They are our neighbours who come together on the unclaimed football fields to re-claim hope. They are our true representatives of hope. Amen.
(Also see http://jerryachensworld.blogspot.com/2010/06/sport-and-religion-world-cup-challenge.html)
Picture courtesy http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2014-06-12/michael-palin-the-world-cup-shows-the-yawning-gap-between-brazils-very-rich-and-very-poor