Every four years, the nations of the world anticipate the launch of the largest football festival: the FIFA World Cup, developed and organized by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the entire sport’s international governing body. For four weeks, the world’s brightest and determined football stars will showcase four years’ worth of skill, ambition, and perseverance to become world champions. However, becoming a world champion is less than an individual effort. It requires the players to carry the pride of their entire nation, selectively chosen to represent their respective country as the top football squad. And in the case of the FIFA World Cup, every nation gets a chance to compete for the glory and prize.
The atmosphere of the FIFA World Cup is a strong resemblance to the Olympics, not just because of their quadrennial appearances, but also due to the common relatable factor that both events offer. Both the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup have the ability to harness the attention of almost every community, in nearly any nation. Football is a sport practiced, celebrated, and competed on a national level in practically every major country. Football players are not only restricted to their respective countries, but are also offered the unique opportunity to openly play for clubs around the world. A prime example is the English Premier League, whose international player base playing in England “on loan” from their representative leagues outnumber players who are actually English nationals. This allows star football athletes to become not only national icons of pride, but also international faces and role models.
However, upon the arrival of the FIFA World Cup, players migrate back to the nations they call home and prepare for the quintessential prize in all of international football: to be recognized as the superior powerhouse of all football. For the next month, ninety minutes at a time, the building anticipation hushes and the entire planet is silent, as all eyes focus on the result of years of dedication, sacrifice, and self-discipline. All of a sudden, each national football squad perceives the entire weight of the country they represent, not only battling for their personal glory, but for the voice of their entire nation. This all contributes to a vast and diverse football culture, spoken in a universal language all around the world without having to utter a single word.
A sport and event that has ingrained itself into many national cultures holds an immense global power. Potentially, this influence can be used to unify nations. On the other hand, football is oftentimes found on the opposite side of the positivity, with the benefits buried underneath the sharp and criticizing sides of football publicity. One example involves football creating a national source for competitiveness, resulting in playing out wars, hooliganism, violence, and even death and murder, such as the tragedy of Colombian international football player Andres Escobar shortly after the 1994 FIFA World Cup. How can a sport that possesses such a promising potential become so notorious in the critic’s eye?
Yes, sports of any sort unleash the competitive nature of people especially when national pride becomes a factor, but there is a difference between friendly competition and destruction. In the case of the FIFA World Cup, perhaps all that is needed is a simple reminder, bringing to awareness the noble good that this quintessential football event raises: thirty-two nations, representing all major continents, demonstrating to the biggest stage in the world what hard work and community support can do, while at the same time breaking down any sort of social barriers by uniting all nations together with this same heart and purpose. What’s not to like?
This concept is often forgotten in the midst of the FIFA World Cup spirit. For example, how many fans are aware that the FIFA World Cup is in collaboration with several non-governmental organizations, and even the United Nations, such as Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon? Especially since the FIFA World Cup is already the most viewed and followed sporting event, even exceeding the Olympic Games, imagine the limitless possibilities of such a media and networking system. If this side of the games becomes more of the focal point for the ideologies and publicity of the FIFA World Cup, this is the side of football that the entire world, including critics, will understand: not as a menacing, brutal sport, but a rich, universal culture that creates an avenue to bring together nations, while rising above social walls, through mutual understanding and relation.
For the rest of June and July, the spirit of the games will continue, with nations representing the entire world kicking, diving, and tackling their way to the highest glory in sports. Hopefully, this will be the year that fans all over the world will look at the fan next to them and realize that this may be the closest that all countries have been to each other.