Does World Sport Bring Us Together?

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

  • Mark 13:5-8

If you look around the world today, there is more distrust than trust.  Allies fail to come to the aid of one of their members.  They’d rather send money, armaments, or simply ignore the cries for help.

The Scripture above is what Jesus says about the warnings that the world is not coming together.

Sure, in the End Times the world unifies, and the Antichrist takes over, setting himself up as god, but these wars are the birth pains of the End Times.  And I am not sure if we are in the birth pains yet.  Could these wars today compose the Braxton Hicks of the End Times?  Sorry, some ladies might not find that funny, but they might need to lighten up.

But what brought this on?  World Cup 2022 will be over the day after this gets posted.  On November 20, 2022, Ecuador beat Qatar, the host country, and on December 18, 2022 the final game will be played.  As of the time writing this, the USA had beaten Iran qualifying for the right to have the Netherlands beat them up in the first round of the “knockout” rounds.  I may have to modify this paragraph if a miracle happens.

But in watching the game, the game ended with countless Iranian players trying to trick the referee into giving Iran a penalty kick.  As the commentators said, the dark arts of the game but most teams do it.  I have heard it said in American football and in NASCAR, that if you do not cheat, you are not trying.  These days, that seems to expand to everything, sport, industry, governments, whatever.

But as I saw the fans after the game, it seemed the Iran supporters were more angry than sad.  When the team you root for to win the Super Bowl loses, you cry.  You do not make a pipe bomb.  But if we degenerate further, maybe we will.

I love the soft drink commercial where the star American football player is saying, “It’s just a game.” And everyone else is lamenting that their star has lost his mind, but it is only a game.  A lot of money riding on it, but just a game.  And I lament the gambling money riding on it.  It used to be that gambling odds were forbidden on the air, broadcast.  Now they give the odds of each play during the games, more worried about gambling than playing the game.

The point is that FIFA, the organization that runs the World Cup, recognizes 211 countries.  Of those countries, 179 countries are losers to start the tournament, not getting an invitation to the World Cup.  And of those 32 countries, only one is crowned the winner.  Sure, when Africa had no teams get into the knockout rounds in 2018, having Senegal make it when their group was the first to complete group play was big news for all of Africa.  There was rejoicing when the USA did the same thing a few hours later.

But why did both group final games play at the same time?  That rule dates back to a horrible game in 1982.  The two teams that were playing knew before the game began that if West Germany scored one goal and Austria did not score at all, both teams would advance to the next round.  They ensured that the score was one-nil in favor of West Germany.  They kind of kicked the ball back and forth after West Germany scored the first goal.  Ninety minutes of “practice.”  You might say that they cheated, and they did cheat the fans out of a well-played game, but there was nothing in the rules to prevent them from doing it.  Now both games have a kickoff at the exact same time in different stadiums that are far apart.  If the result of one game could alter how you played the other, you’d never know until the game was over.

As I watched a few of the games, it was odd how one game had a half dozen players getting a yellow card, all on one team, and another game that was even harder fought with people being carted off on stretchers throughout the game and the referee gave no one a yellow card.  Was this an officiating crew trying to manipulate the result?  I have no idea.  I am just a casual fan and disinterested in the game for the most part.  When you read blogs from those countries, you tend to develop a little interest.

And as for yellow cards, at one point, the day after I wrote this, it looked like Poland and Mexico were going to have identical scores for all the tiebreakers except the last one. It might have come down to the “fair play” tiebreaker, and Mexico would have been sent home for a single yellow card, but a late (in stoppage time) goal by Saudi Arabia sent Mexico home on the point differential tiebreaker instead. Yes, an official’s whistle and raised card citation might have decided who went home early and who was left to play another day.

I read Rev. David Robertson’s take on this (the wee flea). He loves the World Cup competition, but he knows how others hate it for a variety of reasons. He asked himself if Jesus would watch and he concluded that if Jesus were in the midst of His earthly ministry during the World Cup, He would not bother watching it. But does that make watching a game here or there a sin?

But in the end, the World Cup leads to one country winning and 210 countries losing or never having had a chance to compete, at least on the big stage.  In the Olympics, winter or summer, you have your usual bragging rights.  Some competitions are so subjective that it depends on who is judging as to who wins, and you have well over one hundred countries going away without a single medal.  Okay, less than one hundred countries usually participate in the winter Olympics, but usually over 200 participate in the summer Olympics. Maybe a more accurate statement is that about half go home with only the experience of being there.

When you see the athletes from rival countries hugging each other, the media takes a lot of photos and the writers speak of unity on earth, but as long as there is a sin nature, there will be strife.

Note: As of this update, Croatia and Morocco played today for the third-place match, Croatia winning, and France and Argentina play tomorrow. The media spoke of Morocco’s long run in the tournament being a referendum of the Muslim way of life. There were a few games that ended in protest, including an Argentinian hand ball in the penalty area that was not called, shades of “the hand of God” non-call when Diego Maradona was playing for Argentina. While these games show that we can play nice and we can, at least this time, not have hooliganism outside the games, there will always be arguments of referee calls and non-calls and long-lasting bitterness. And the media will jump all over each other to be the first to highlight the strife rather than the accord.

Thinking of the Scripture above, I am not bold enough to argue with Jesus on this one.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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