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Germany 7, Brazil 1 Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 12 July 2014

It would seem that God’s gift to Brazil, this year, was the FIFA World Cup.

Not the Cup itself, however, nor even the pleasure of hosting the event, which finally ends tomorrow, praise the Lord.

Rather, for Brazilians, it was the experience of watching – it would seem the whole country was glued in, along with much of the world – as the national team, in which a huge emotional investment had been made, was obliterated by the team from Germany.

I caught part of the game myself, on a big-screen TV in a Toronto pub.

Under normal circumstances, it is inconceivable that I would be caught in such a compromising position. To my mind, pub: good. Beer: good. Camaraderie: good. Getting off work for the afternoon: good. . . .But somehow the big-screen TV puts the lie to everything.

From a shopkeeper, I had just learned that the Germans were up by five goals, only part way into the first half. This was unbelievable, or at least, implausible. An unworthy curiosity got my cat.

Understand, I wasn't actually rooting for the Jerries. But I was perhaps sinfully indulging a form of Schadenfreude, in witnessing “some German engineering,” as one pub customer put it, “passing through a samba party.”

(There is some religion coming, but gentle reader must wait for it.)

Blowout football games, or any other sort of games for that matter, contribute to the development of lightness of head. I recall a soccer match from school, way back in a previous century. Our side beat theirs, 10-0. Though I did not watch it, I gathered it had not been pretty.

But I remember a schoolboy who did play. He struck me as a “holy innocent,” with a rich and droll sense of humor, of which he was himself unaware. He said that the coach had told them at half-time to stop at nine goals, because, “Double digits would be rude.” Therefore, he said, our team had played “very dainty” in the last thirty minutes, after the ninth had been scored. So how had it come to ten?

“It couldn’t be helped. The poor blighters put one in their own goal.”

My sympathy for the poor blighters was engaged. In this case, too, I felt rather sorry for the poor Brazilians. They would have to be quite disordered, indeed, to enjoy that sort of humiliation. And yet, as even today we distantly remember, pride goeth before a fall.

“Football,” “soccer,” or “kickball,” as I have come to call it, under the tutelage of a friend in Houston (an American football chauvinist for Texas A&M), may involve skills. I noticed the German genius for “headbirths” as I call them – for directing the ball with their heads not their feet. I was modestly respectful for the style of such superstars in the past as Pelé of Brazil, Maradona of Argentina, Eusébio of Portugal, George Best of England.


          Its just a game

I am further persuaded that, as in other sports, there are fans who truly appreciate such genius, connoisseurs who applaud it even when the player is on the other team.

There is another factor, not so much on the field as in the bleachers, in major professional sports. It is at its worst in international competition. It is the goon-like display of team and national chauvinism, condemned in others, overlooked in ourselves – often more sordid in defeat than in victory.

Up here in supposedly placid Canada, we have had fans riot and take the town apart, upon losing a Stanley Cup final – both in Vancouver and Montreal. Many were eventually arrested, in the most recent case, because they were taking selfies while doing it.

The ugliness of professional sport, the corruption at the heart of the Olympic movement, is hardly a mystery. (Another pub customer: “Brazil’s strategy for winning the World Cup went wrong when they found that the Germans weren’t taking bribes.”)

Nor is the associated violence and hooliganism something new. For it is time to remind gentle reader of e.g. the Nika Riots in Constantinople, fifteen centuries ago. Half the city was destroyed after a chariot race, with deaths estimated in the tens of thousands. Then, as often now, big professional sport provided a venue for communal rivalries.

And Christians immortally recall the roar in the Roman Forum.

Brazil, from what I understand, is among the more severe cases of “football nation.” As several commentators – themselves Brazilian – were quick to explain, the national identity of that vast country is tied up in football. They expounded the depth of Brazilian desolation, in losing at home, to foreigners, by such a margin, in so important a game.

Bless their foolish hearts, the huge crowd at Belo Horizonte began actually cheering for the Germans in the second half, and bitterly booing anything associated with their own side. I saw a photograph of a Brazil fan in the act of eating his own jersey. There could be no better evidence of trauma.

Still, properly understood, the defeat could be taken as God’s gift.

For here is a nation once profoundly Christian, and Catholic, which has, in the main, abandoned her faith, for idols. And not in some subtle and refined way, that would take careful analysis to make out, but overtly. The idolatry is perfectly obvious.

The subtlety lies here: in the very identification of the fans with their team. There is no humor in it, no whimsicality, no taking it for “sport” or “just a game.” Beneath the idolatry we begin to see the element of self-worship, which lies at a stratum touching the demonic.

Here we are staring at fanatic nationalism and communalism, at the worship of man by man, with which the Devil himself has replaced religious spirituality, and sought to checkmate a universal Church.

But God, in this instance, has responded with a gift, withheld perhaps from the Germans, but provided so generously to Brazil: “Put not your faith in football.”

 
David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

 

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Comments (19)Add Comment
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written by Schm0e, July 12, 2014
"And Christians immortally recall the roar in the Roman Forum."

Aye. Is it me or are the echoes growing louder?
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written by Randall, July 12, 2014
This is a very interesting take on the phenomenon of 'sports fans.' I'll admit right up front that I love baseball and American football and am a fan of a couple of pro teams. But Mr. Warren is right - it can easily become idolatry. I did for me and it's only in recent years that my eyes were fully opened to that ugly fact. I've learned to step back and appreciate sports as sports, whether my favorite teams win or lose. And guess what - I actually get MORE pleasure from sports now. Sport is a gift from God and like all gifts it can be corrupted.
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 12, 2014
Idolatry is the word. Superb essay. I checked the CARA survey, and noted our Mass attendance in the US versus Brazil (we don't compare favorably).
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written by Seanachie, July 12, 2014
Insightful piece, David...well done. My concern in the U.S. is the idolatry of the individual athlete who in many cases is anything but a worthy role model for children. Illegal narcotic users, sexual predators, thieves, even killers are paraded before U.S. audiences as heroes...often spokespersons for consumer products advertising campaigns. Regrettably, many of us (especially children) have become ensnared by the tentacles of the celebrity cult in its many forms.
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written by Carlos, July 12, 2014
I found with sadness that Mr Warren's site is under attack again. It did not come up on a Google search where I went to check if I had the URL right but there were plenty of mock-up sites, definitely not friendly. Mr Warren must be doing something right!

I also felt very sorry for the poor Brazilian kids. The adults will get over it but the little children deserved something better than the sorry spectacle presented by those overpaid buffoons.

Germany had to work very hard to defeat Ghana, a very meritorious and hard working team. Compared to Ghana the Brazilian team performed shamefully. Yet the Brazilian jersey that carries all the memories of Pele, Garrincha, Jair, Didi, and so many other glorious players of the past; made Germany's seven-goal stroll look like something bigger than it actually was.
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written by maineman, July 12, 2014
I have always lamented the shift away from the subtlety and complexity of baseball, the leisurely sport that dominated America in the middle of the last century, a game in which maintaining control is everything and the human being, not an object, scores the points. I have been aesthetically disappointed by the ascendance of the merely athletic sports in which speed, strength, and jumping ability are mostly what count, probably because they seem mostly to reward the will to power.

But David's piece also sets me to thinking about how my boyhood affiliation with the Washington Senators, snatched away by Minnesota when I was 12, the moment they came up from the cellar, and my retraumatization at the hands of the Red Sox of the '70's and '80's, laid the groundwork for my eventual conversion (from nothing) to Catholicism.

May the Brazilians be similarly blessed.
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written by jack, July 12, 2014
George Best was not English. He may have practiced his trade there
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written by Myshkin, July 12, 2014
"He enjoys that perfect peace, that peace beyond all understanding, which comes at its maximum only to the man who has given up sports." ~ P.G. Wodehouse (slightly paraphrased)
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written by David Warren, July 12, 2014
True, Jack, Best was really an Ulsterman. ... And Eusébio was not Portuguese, but from Mozambique. ... And Maradona played for Barcelona, & Naples. ... And "Pelé" was originally nicknamed "Dico." ...
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written by grump, July 13, 2014
Brazil has always struck me as a silly country, consumed by endless carnivals, big butts and a sport that is a dull as dishwater, along with an incurable inferiority complex.
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written by Robert, July 13, 2014
What a silly article for a religious site. Of course sports and games are highly overvalued in the modern world, as are the athletes. But why are you picking on soccer, when the most grotesque examples of what is wrong with professional sports can be found in the U.S.? Americans' lack of understanding of soccer, a great and beautiful game,and of its fans, always shines through. Idolatry? I don't think so. Better the nations of the world come together to play a great sport than slaughter each other in the wars of the powers that be. Not rooting for the "Jerries?" Haven't heard that dumb term since the last Hollywood WWII propaganda movie I suffered through. I'll be rooting for the Germans, on and off the soccer field, and hoping generations of Germans who had nothing to do with the world wars will stop being apologetic to the world for existing.
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written by Margaret, July 13, 2014
Mr. Warren,

I have been trying to access your web site for a couple of days and cannot. Is there some problem with it?
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written by Mike, July 13, 2014
Yep, George Best was born in Northern Ireland. So you agree with the correction. You then point out that Eusebio was born in Mozambique – which was, at the time, a Portuguese colony. I suppose that’s sort of relevant. But the fact that Maradona played for Barcelona has got nothing to do with the correction so what was the point of making it? Just being silly. (Or bad grace in being corrected?)
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written by Bruno, July 13, 2014
Right on target Mr Warren, and say that as a Brazilian. Some people got so upset after the defeat that I've seen facebook posts announcing intentions to move abroad. Nothing could serve us better than a reminder not to take sports too seriously.

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written by Bruno, July 13, 2014
By the way, this cup we had a priest saying mass with a personalized stole, stamped with Brazilian flags.
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written by Howard, July 13, 2014
I call nonsense. There will always be regional or national pride; those emotions are part of the human experience. It is much more Christian to channel those emotions into a sport, however silly it may be, than into amassing a world empire (like Britain) or aspiring to be the superpower that makes decisions for all the other countries of the world (like the US) -- two things Brazil has never attempted. Let them pour their hearts into a game; it is better than being told they have to crawl out of trenches and slowly walk through machine gun fire for the glory of God and the King. Let them eat their jerseys during the game, so long as they do not engage in assault or vandalism when the game is over.
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written by EJCM, July 14, 2014
Interestingly enough the Cup winning goal was scored by Gotze who posted this on his Facebook page (in German) before the World Cup even began and after a mediocre season beset with injuries:

"Dear God, I would like to take a minute. Not to ask for anything. But simply to say thank you, for everything I have."
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written by Edward, July 14, 2014
Mr Warren, please, why is your wonderful anti-blog offline?
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written by Bill Guentner, July 15, 2014
I believe that both World Wars I & II have been over for enough time to stop referring to Germans as "Jerries".

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