Nike is running a cool commercial right now on the sports networks with a montage of scenes from across the world of athletes in the simplest surroundings going on to perform the most amazing feats in their particular arena of competition. It ends with the message: “Write the Future”.
I saw it just after tuning in World Cup coverage. Just a day after Chicago’s massive Stanley Cup celebration. Breathing has suddenly become a conscious exercise.
And whole countries will gasp and exhale collectively for the next month, with World Cup soccer underway. Nothing else is like it, this global test of skill and will and nerves. I love it. We often wound up on a summer holiday in Europe during World Cup when my sons were growing up, and there’s nothing like being in towns and villages, shops and restaurants, where everyone is gathered around televisions and and fixated on radios with rapt attention. It’s one of the great equalizers on the planet, crossing demographics like little else can.
I wonder why the men and women in the news and politics I follow as a profession can’t tap into this deeper human experience we know as ’sport’ and draw the greater lessons of integrity and goodwill from events like the Olympics and World Cup that would advance the purposes of the UN and Congress immensely.
But before the spectator sport known as the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan get underway, and while the president still wrestles with BP and the environmental disaster evolving from the oil spill, and state primaries pit anti-incumbent voters against incumbent politicians…this is a great diversion. In a rare opportunity to be together at home again, my family anticipated the big sports events by watching ‘Invictus’. It was more inspiring than I knew.
After Nelson Mandela won South Africa’s first fully representative democratic election, his decision as president to build up and support the hated Springboks rugby team was strongly protested by his own staffers. The Sprinboks represented apratheid to the African majority, and Mandela’s decision amounted to reconciling with the enemy. ‘We have to surprise them with compassion’ Mandela (or Morgan Freeman, who played him) told the protestors. ‘We have to show restraint and generosity. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It is a powerful weapon.’
The World Cup is now in South Africa, but Mandela had to miss the opening ceremonies because of a tragedy in his family. Prayers are needed.
Prayers are offered. The South African bishops conference created a special site, Church on the Ball, with their petitions to Almighty God for fairness and justice and peace.
The world is in this together. ‘Cheers for the World’, says the New York Times. The Atlantic says “connectivity is the only defense against madness.” In a post that mentions, as they all do, the ever present vuvuzela. Get used to the word, or at least the sound, if you watch any World Cup.
Unlike the whistles, chants and (in 2002, at least) dull, inflatable thunder-sticks you might hear elsewhere, the vuvuzela produces a consistent, more suffocating soundscape. It’s kind of a perfect sonic representation of how many of us will experience this World Cup. The vuvuzela produces a sound that is constant, unerring, temperate, insert winged insect reference here. Like the steady, never-asleep streams of data swarming through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.—this will be the first World Cup where we are this effortlessly linked—the vuvuzela’s buzz is only truly notable when it’s absent.
But it won’t be, until nearly mid-July. Will the world be exhausted by then? Big question….will the US still be a player or long gone? Don’t rule us out, say these devoted fans in the unlikely post ‘Why You Should Root for the U.S.’
First of all, the Yanks are good…Perhaps the most telling sign of why we’re a team to beat was the frustration in [Landon] Donovan’s voice when he said in a post-game interview, “We are at the point where we don’t want respect. We want to win.”
Second, this is the World Cup. While professional leagues allow players to drift from one high-paying contract to another, this tournament of tournaments signals a moment in the sporting world when something much more valuable than money is on the table: national pride.