Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon member Oren Peleg, a sports fan and gifted writer, sent me this essay today and I couldn’t help but share it. It is something I wish I could have written but I don’t know enough about soccer – excuse me – football to have made this interesting observation about sports and peace – even if it’s temporary.
Littered with dramatic aerial views from the vantage point of Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro and the iconic Maracana stadium, the broadcast of the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina had it all. There were near misses, clattering tackles, and moments of individual brilliance. No glaring officiating errors took away from the result. The goal that won it from super sub Mario Gotze was a cracking stunner that deservedly proved decisive. Lebron James, Shakira and Vladimir Putin were even in attendance. I defy anyone to come up with a more intriguing lunch trio. Putin, party of three? Right this way.
The entire world watched Die Mannschaft complete its conquest and neatly do away with the Argentines and Messi’s wizardry to claim the coveted Jules Rimet trophy.
Sport is an art of spectacle and the Germans matched up against the Argentines on the hallowed ground of the Maracana proved just that for two hours and change. The German football triumph of triumphs also provided a nation in peril with some much-needed quiet, as even Hamas operatives couldn’t look away.
Boom! Boom! Boom! Currently, the not so gentle melody of missiles flying overhead is heard throughout the land of Israel. No one wants this. No one wants to see innocents caught in the middle on either side. Those compelled to incite terror simply sat transfixed, insisting instead on watching the Germany game, giving everyone a break.
Some six thousand miles away, Israel briefly experienced some six thousand decibels of silence. The barrage of Hamas-fired rockets raining down on Southern Israel and even farther-reaching ones pelting the Tel Aviv area stopped. Israelis could hear their own thoughts and formulate new ones. Life has largely gone on throughout this turmoil, as is the nature of the Israeli spirit to do so, but make no mistake, this is shattering to the people. That night was a glimmer of hope.
Sport, in this case, football, played a vital role. Football possesses a seemingly unparalleled power to unify. It is the power of sport. Football is essentially twenty-two men equipped with thigh-high revealing short shorts and truly thespian tendencies chasing a tiny ball around a wide grassy field. That’s it, and yet somehow, it’s so much more. In the Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I, warring German and British soldiers came together in the heart of no man’s land between enemy lines for a good natured game of football. It was the ultimate wartime chivalry.
Brazilian legend Pele came to play in Lagos, Nigeria during the country’s bloody 1967 civil war, which precipitated a two-day ceasefire so that the opposing factions could catch a glimpse of greatness. After leading his native Ivory Coast to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, beloved striker Didier Drogba got down on his knees on live television and begged for an end to the civil war. Soon after, leaders from both sides were in attendance for an African Cup of Nations qualifying match singing the Ivorian national anthem together. This is the power of sport. It is beautiful to behold.
The power of Hamas is characterized by ugliness. This hateful organization wields the power of fear. It endangers its citizens by placing them in harm’s way. It encourages civilians to form human shields. It fires rockets from underneath hospitals, religious sites, schools and homes of the innocent. It wishes nothing but death and destruction to a neighboring nation. It, in and of itself, is a crime against everything right in this world. It preys on the fear stricken and works tirelessly to strike fear in the hearts of those not yet conquered. They brandish fear, but fear alone cannot conquer. It can only lay ruin. Love alone can conquer. Even these fear brandishing bandits had to stop and watch the global phenomenon that is the World Cup.
Something feels different about this latest round of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. The quiet of course didn’t last long. With the end of the game and the German players lifting the cup to celebrate the proudest moment of their lives, a forecast of heavy rocket rain quickly returned to Israel. Hamas resumed and both sides suffer now. That part feels familiar. The temporary quiet was different and something new. Maybe it went largely unnoticed because of the timing. Any event competing for attention with the World Cup final will slip into obscurity. We can’t forget that quiet. It’s pure. It’s everything we want. It’s everything we need.
Sport is a microcosm of society and how it is truly meant to function. Players come together from all corners of the world, from all different backgrounds and beliefs and compete, devoid of outright confrontation, but rather with mutual admiration and respect. The primal nature of competitive football drew wide-reaching interest upon its inception. Then every nation’s engagement in the game gave football its patented complexity. It is truly the international language.
Maybe it’s this age of accessibility we’re in, but this latest conflict is simply on more lips. It’s being discussed and people are taking notice. Debate rages. Sometimes this part of it seems good. Sometimes this part of it seems bad. I’m not of the mindset that my words can change anything. I’m just hopeful that things can quiet down, perhaps in a more meaningful way than in times past. We’re all painfully familiar with the narrative. Things escalate. There’s a ceasefire followed by some welcome downtime. Then things pick up again and we’re right back where we started.
Those two hours of silence Germany gifted all of Israel with during last night’s final are what make me hopeful. If twenty-two grown men chasing a tiny ball on grass can silence Hamas, then I am hopeful. Clearly, around the world football is something more than just sport. Here’s to hoping we all come out of this latest altercation with something more than just a ceasefire.
(Learn more about Oren and his writing here).