Football? Amen [Archives:2006/960/Viewpoint]

July 3 2006

“Hey tall guy, do something with your head. Move it or remove it, we want to watch the game!” One of my tall friends, Ayman, is not quite happy with his height these days. Apparently he continuously gets nagged while watching World Cup football matches on open-field screens. Following the tournament has become a sacred ritual for Ayman and many other Yemeni youths and adults alike. When I ask Ayman how is football these days he gives me a “yo-man” kind of gesture and says, “football rules!”

Actually these days football does rule. A recent story in Time magazine shows that one person out of five around the world are following the World Cup. This includes people who lack access to the matches and people who do not know what TV is in the first place. So, out of the people who do have access, perhaps the percentage is in the nineties if not greater. There hasn't been a more unifying subject for people globally than sports. In the last Olympics both North and South Korea paraded holding one flag together. It was then said that sports achieved what politics could not.

This year, football fans of various persuasions)even conflicting minorities)sat together watching, anticipating, and cheering. Iraqi Sunna, Shia, and Kurds sat together as did Turks with the Germans, Russians with Ukrainians, Muslims with Christians. Everyone put aside their differences and united in the love of this fascinating game.

“Zu Gast Bei Freunden”

The host for the World Cup this year made it clear that it would use the occasion as “a time to make new friends.” Germany is re-branding its image in order to be known as a friendly nation. The government urged Germans to be friendly hosts this summer when guests would arrive. So, football is not only a game that unites people, it is also an opportunity for conveying a message and re-branding a nation's image as a whole.

With the latest developments in Gaza, I feel sad and sorry for the way things turned out in my region, the Middle East. If only there was a way people could gather around themes such as world peace and justice like they do around a sport such as football. And if only there was a way to portray a truer image about Islam and the Arabs, a more positive one: to use an opportunity like Germany has with the World Cup and tell the world that Muslims and Arabs are more than what perceptions tell. If only we could use such an opportunity to get rid of violence that targets our fellow human beings and to unite with the entire world under the rubric of humanity, peace, and justice.