Some people just do not understand sport. Many dismiss it by saying that it either diverts too much money from useful things like the arts or that it fuels a culture based on drinking and womanising. However creating a world of celebrities just because they can kick or throw a ball is not what sport is about. It never has been and it never ever will be.
It's because sport is glorious. There is nothing even remotely close to what sport can do. Sport contributes as much to society as the high arts or any other human endeavor. It is the great unifier. Even if you don't like sport, at least once in every person's life there will be a moment where sport has had a major impact. From taking part in a team at the age of 10 or cheering on as a nation when a team scores a point in extra time.
For me the greatest of all sports is football or "soccer" if the heathens among you prefer. That is because it empowers the smallest person in the world. You don't have to be talented, you don't have to have a lot of money and in football it doesn't matter what your race, colour or creed is. It is truly the world game in terms of participants and followers. All you need is a ball. It also gives people a sense of identity in a community. You can be in any city in the world, walk into any pub and if there is a game of football on a TV and you see someone in your club or country's colours, you have a friend. You can be in situations where you are hugging and cheering with complete strangers just because you share the same love of a team.
Countries have become more independant and stronger because of their football teams. Brazil formed an identity because of football and its an export that still exists today. In 1967 the Brazilian player Pele, the greatest footballer of all time, played a exibition game in Nigeria. The country was heavily involved in a civil war and both rival sides called a 48 hour ceasefire for the time that Pele was in the country. In 1911, a team of Indian civilians living in British controled India won the national football cup, a cup only previously won by teams consisting of British Imperialists. This was a great triumph for Indians and proud moment in a history of a very suppressed people.
These examples go on and on and on.
Currently in Melbourne we are hosting a competition called the Homeless World Cup. It has further emboldened my belief in the power of sport and football. Countries from all around the world have come together to give an opportunity to those who need it the most. Homeless people from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and all first and third world countries inbetween have been kitted up, given a chance to get their lives back on track and been allowed to make goals for themselves.
Hundreds of people have come to Federation Square and two other grounds on the Yarra River to cheer on these people. Spectators have given non-partisan support to the teams and been overcome by the sheer happiness exuberantly shown by the players. Your faith in humanity and just marvelling at what can be achieved by those deemed not to be achievers is one of the best things I have seen in a long time. Its something that football can allow that to happen. What other things in the world can unify and facilitate such an activity to take place?
If you happen to be in Melbourne get down and check it out. You will not regret it.
www.homelessworldcup.org and get out and find the documentary "Kicking It" which is about the competition itself.