International events like the World Cup an opportunity to promote peace, friendship

 |  NCR Today

Germany's 1-0 World Cup victory over Argentina was a close one, although many viewers felt the Germans were a shoo-in after their dominating performances against teams like Portugal and Brazil earlier in the tournament. "Germans Humiliated After Winning World Cup 6.38 Seconds Behind Schedule," an Onion headline teased after the win.

If Internet memes are to judge, the biggest joke for many Catholics was that the final match pitted the home countries of the pope and pope emeritus against each other. Yet Pope Francis had promised not to pray for an Argentina win, and according to an anonymous Vatican source, Pope Emeritus Benedict would not even be watching the big game. "It would be like inflicting an infinite penitence on him at the age of 87," the source reported. "He has never been able to watch a football match from beginning to end in his life."

The Pontifical Council for Culture, however, did take an interest. On the Friday before the match -- too late, perhaps, for word to get out, even despite the lightning speed of social media -- it proposed a moment of silence at the beginning of the game.

"Why not, during the final match of the World Cup, invite everyone to a moment of silence and prayer to ask for peace in the world?" asked the council's undersecretary in a YouTube video. "Peace in Syria, in the Holy Land, in the Ukraine, in Nigeria, in all the corners of the world martyred by war."

Beyond the attraction of using the most-watched television broadcast of the year as an opportunity for prayer, such gestures can refocus the meaning of global sporting events themselves. For it is not obvious that the World Cup should symbolize global unity and friendship rather than nationalism and competition, and it is very far from obvious that the major sports events contribute positively to peace and justice.

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For years now, many Brazilians have been protesting the extraordinary amount of money funneled into construction projects for the Cup rather than into social services, the privatization of tournament profits, and the number of people evicted from their homes to make room for new stadiums.

Some in England have brought attention to the rise of domestic violence after home teams lose big matches.

And while some scholars disagree that major sporting events cause an uptick of sex trafficking, others point out that it is not enough to look at statistical data, because trafficking and prostitution take place behind closed doors. Anecdotal evidence at these events indicates that this is indeed a huge problem, particularly insofar as it affects children.

True, sports can elevate people's spirits. Along these lines, Yale economist Dean Karlan proposed that we root for the team whose victory will cause the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Karlan devised a utilitarian rubric that synthesized participating countries' population, relative enthusiasm over soccer, and poverty level. He concluded that we should all root for Nigeria, which stands to gain the most from national euphoria following a big win.

Anyway, when all is said and done, it seems appropriate indeed to invite a "pause for peace" at the beginning of a big game -- taking the opportunity to exhort international cooperation and a spirit of charity in a world where even fun and games have a shadow side.


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April 21-May 4, 2017