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September 1, 2014
Monday, July 7, 2014

Make soccer, not war

By Isaac Tylim
For The Herald
The 2014 Soccer World Cup is in full swing. Teams from five continents assemble in one of the largest countries of the world. Millions partake of the thrill of watching players communicating without words despite language barriers. Soccer is a multilingual affair understood by all. Translations are not needed.

The World Cup is an open encyclopedia. People of all walks of life unite in the excitement generated by this beautiful ball-kicking war, and in so doing they abandon the isolation of their little domain to embrace the globe on a green field. While rooting for their favourite team, fans learn about other cultures and countries, about differences and similarities, and above all about respecting a shared framework. In addition, the rules of engagement serve also to learn geography. No need to go to actual war to locate the Ivory Cost or Costa Rica — just watch the game.

The passion aroused by soccer seems to have no limits. It affects regular folks and players alike. There are those who might decide to take a sick day and devote their energies to the match of the day, and players in their frenzy may even be prone to taking a bite of an opponent — Suárez is no exception and apologies accepted.

Yet, like everything in life, one must pay attention to the manifest without neglecting the latent. It is in the tension between the manifest and the latent where hidden soccer dynamics become apparent.

Sports journalist Dave Zirin, author of the recently published Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy has eloquently explored the underbelly of soccer, unveiling the reasons for its popularity in South America. His research links the importing of soccer from England to Brazil and how around the time that slavery was abolished. While the British version of the game was quite rough (more in line with rugby), in Brazil it became softer, more akin to a choreographed dance. Zirin offers an explanation for these changes: slaves and their descendants had to be careful when playing, not to touch their opponents (white masters) for fear of death. Thus the rules of contemporary soccer were born in Brazil, and for no clear reason were adopted across the world.

As the demonstrations in Brazil have shown, soccer highlights the good and the bad, the beauty and the ugliness of the most popular sport in the world. Under the surface lies the power of established institutions, corporate interests, and greed. But on the surface is the universal dance of a group of devoted athletes making soccer, not war.

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