Christian Travelers Guide + world cup

More than just a game

Friday's the day. The day the World Cup begins.

(come back people! this is going to be a post about football but not the kind of post about football that mentions the offside trap, 4-4-2 formations or professional footballers inability to keep their trousers on, so please stick with me!).

I'm pretty excited. I like football. Not so much in the actually knowing what the England formation is going to be way, more in a big game, lots of people cheering kind of way. I like the camaraderie and the community of it. And I'm spending a considerable amount of time thinking about it, for my PhD is on the role that football might play in reconciliation in a post conflict society. Hence the time in Bosnia.

In my time spent visiting small villages trying to recover from the conflict, I've dragged my children to endless football matches and come across some fascinating things about football. Things that help demonstrate why it matters so much to so many people. Things that make people travel to a village where previously they had been held in a camp and subjected to torture. Things that say why, when there is so much to do in terms of rebuilding and so few people have the jobs or the money to do it, that it is the village football club is renovated and revived.

A few things in particular stand out for me. Chatting to a woman whilst idly watching a game, she suddenly said before the football started again, the only time this village ever got together was for funerals. There was no weddings, no joy. Now I look forward to the games, I look forward to seeing people being together. It's starting to feel more like how it was before it all went crazy. At a different match I was gossiping with an old guy who'd been 'cleansed' and had returned a decade later. Our football team, it tells everyone that we are still here. They tried to get rid of us, but we've come back. We go to their villages to play a match and they can't ignore it. They have to remember that we were their neighbours, and we still are. Over a coffee another women said that the football team was the only reason she ever had cause to travel outside of the village. Without the team she thought the village would have become a bit of a ghetto. In many ways the community benefitted from football, even if they didn't themselves play.

Now, if you listen to FIFA you'd be surprised that football isn't used as the first method used by the UN to sort out world problems. Ah, Israel and Palestine causing trouble, quick, send in the men in black carrying red cards for people who can't behave for 90 minutes. Obviously it isn't as simple as that. Underlying problems must be resolved. Football can stop the violence, but rarely for longer than the 90 minutes it takes to play the game. One doesn't have to look very hard to find all sorts of issues with hooliganism, violence, corruption, links to organised crime and other distinctly dodgy dealings. But it does, in small ways do much for the communities that play it. Today, on the eve of the World Cup, I'd like to celebrate that.

PS - something for those who support anyone but England to think about. The issue of nationality in Bosnia is complex, best summarised as the Bosnian Muslims support Bosnia, the Bosnian Serbs support Serbia and the Bosnian Croats support Croatia. Serbia qualified for the World Cup, Bosnia and Croatia didn't. When Bosnia played against Portugal in the playoffs, the Bosnian Serbs were supporting Bosnia. Most of the Bosnian Muslims I spoke to will be supporting Serbia at the World Cup. The way they see it Bosnia and Serbia were both members of Yugoslavia, are still neighbours and have far more in common with each other than anyone else. Given what happened between these two sets of people only 15 years ago, I think that is incredible. And it makes me want to knock on the door of an anyone but England Scot/Australian/whoever, point it out and ask what their issue is.

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More than just a game + world cup