Football is what brings us together today.
Before leaving for South America, I read a lot about the protests in the streets of Brazil against the funds spent on the World Cup as opposed to say, schools and infrastructure. Then, I read about the race against time to complete all the stadiums and ready them for inspection (they were still painting some walls at the Brazilia airport when I went through it). There was also coverage of allegations of corruption by FIFA and its leaders.
Some of these issues were real. It was as if the World Cup kicked off against a backdrop of troubles. But once the games started, the world was watching, and everyone was excited. And that is the thing: corruption or not, football remains as popular as ever, and the World Cup brings people together like nothing else.
Look at me, and how far I travelled, just to enjoy this treat. I am an Israeli with dual French nationality, in Brazil, tremendously enjoying a game that features Nigerians against Bosnians, while sitting next to a group of English fans and a Canadian. Did I mention that I also have American citizenship?
Fans are overwhelmingly proud of their countries. Everywhere you go people wear their national jerseys. Uruguayans were singing at the airport after their team sent England home. Colombians were streaming into Cuiaba ahead of their game against Japan. One could easily identify all the American fans arriving to Manaus to face Portugal, whose fans dark maroon shirts stand out in a busy crowd. Fans stop and take random pictures with strangers wearing the best costumes.
So far I didn't see any anger, or yelling, or fighting. Quite the opposite, actually. Most fans, overwhelmingly Brazilians, are orderly and disciplined. They seem to be randomly picking one of the teams that come to town and root for that county. Our host bought a Chilean flag to take to the stadium for the first game, then a Nigerian one, and next he plans to buy one of Honduras for the last game. How does he pick a side? "Just like that". What will he do with the flags after the tournament? "Not sure".
Ok, so of course there are some world politics. We went to this Saturday morning kids friendly outdoor brunch diner. Lots of people, TV screens everywhere. Argentina was playing Iran. No Brazilian will root for archrival Argentina. No Argentinian will dare enter wearing the famous blue-and-white striped shirt. Not even the group of four Bolivian fans, who drove 1,000 kilometers over two days across the border to join the feast, whom I suspected were happy when Argentina scored.
's Lionel Messi (R) celebrates after scoring a goal past Iran. Photo: Reuters)
So there I was, an Israeli rooting and yelling for Iran. For a few hours I was willing to ignore their nuclear ambitions if they could just beat Argentina (they did not). They could have as many atomic bombs as they like just don't let Messi score (he did). After all I'm sure that the Iranians, like us the Israelis, all just want to live in peace and play football, right? From the rivers of the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea to the Amazons, we just want to relax and enjoy the beautiful game.
Moshe Arenstein is the Night Editor for
The Jerusalem Post in Israel, and he also writes for the publication. He has also worked as a journalist and TV producer in New York for 16 years, including 11 years with NBC News. He sees football as art and believes it serves as lens to help us understand this world.
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