From the Rev: World Cup
There is perhaps no larger stage for a single sport sporting event than the World Cup – the National Football League’s Super Bowl ranks high on the list with a large American viewer base and the Olympic Games also have a broad global appeal, but in terms of reach – there is no comparing to an event like the World Cup where, literally, the world is watching (some recent statistics have the US vs. Germany game with a higher viewership than the most recent NFL Super Bowl). The question, though, is what do they see?
Is the world seeing the poverty and social justice issues that are seemingly “behind the scenes” in Brazil? Brazilian street artist Paulo Ito and others have been creating a series of art pieces to draw out some of the issues surrounding the largest event in the world. Poverty, corporate greed, working conditions, political pandering are just some of the issues that come to the surface around events like the World Cup or Olympics. Other, more “hidden” issues include things like sex trafficking and child prostitution.
These “darker” issues usually see huge increases around large sporting events that attract large numbers of male participants and there is no event that isn’t susceptible to traffickers trying to make money through sex (including the American Super Bowl). But is the world seeing those things? And if they are, are they simply just ignoring them?
While some groups are trying to draw attention to the larger issues of human exploitation it can often seem that these voices are lost in the deafening roar of the fans of the “beautiful game.” References to “Jesus” saving at the World Cup are little more than sacrilegious puns to describe the sporting feats of a particular goalkeeper or are reserved for more iconic images such as the Redeemer Christ that overlooks Rio de Janeiro.
As a chaplain working in professional sport for nearly 15 years, now, I am becoming more and more impressed with the need for athletes and those involved in the professional game to use the platform and the viewership of the world – not necessarily to promote themselves or some vein of religiosity, but to draw attention to the issues that God himself is concerned with. James 1:26-27 (The Message) reads,
Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
The imperative for us who follow Christ is to reach out and love as Christ would love, and while expressions of one’s faith and life might well include printed expressions such as Kaka’s (Real Madrid) or Wells Thompson’s (pictured while playing for the Colorado Rapids), our faith needs to go beyond mere words. The faith of one who follows Jesus Christ is an active one – where the actions and beliefs are lived out in very tangible ways. Thankfully, both Kaka and Thompson are men who live out an active faith – giving of their time, talents, and resources to love others as Jesus would. Their lives serve as an example for those of us who love and follow the beautiful game – realizing that it is a game, and that there are larger, more important issues at stake. In the least, it should make each of us consider, what is the world seeing when they are watching – whether it is a large event like the World Cup or the way that we live out our faith at home, at work, or at play. We are called to pay attention – not to the star-studded, dramatic happenings on the pitch, but the darker, more desperate issues behind it.
Rev. Brad Kenney