The Greatest Show on Earth

We sympathize, we are thrilled, we are amazed, we protest, we laugh, and we cry together, for days and days. Never have billions of people been living the same emotions together for so long…

Every four years, billions of people have their eyes riveted on a footballistic nation chosen to host the greatest competition of all – the World Cup.

If you are an extraterrestrial on visit to the planet and do not know what a football match is all about, then just by watching one you would immediately understand that it’s two teams of 11 people trying to play the roundish ball towards the opposite post. The strategy is so simple that it has captured the mind of people from all walks of life. Compare this with cricket — one has to watch a few times to understand, to know the nuances of all the manoeuvres to appreciate it – hence only a handful of nations are devoted to it. Not so football, which is a straightforward, simple game, hence its popularity.

Side business

In this World Cup celebration we humans have found spaces to express all our interest because not only has it become a game and an honour to obtain the final title, but businessmen have discovered that they could exploit the situation financially. The principle is simple: if the people are mad about the game, then give them the best of it – after all they are too willing to part with their money; let everyone have a wonderful time and make the world go round.

The fun starts 7 to 8 years before, when the host nation has to be chosen. Diplomacy is employed to have the majority vote at the FIFA final decision, for it is becoming a national issue and a matter of pride to be the host. The windfall is tourism, which means more revenue. The host nation will have to build solid stadiums, more beautiful than at the previous show so as to boost the nation’s morale and pride, and make them a showcase to the country’s material progress. No wonder all sorts of financiers will get themselves enrolled or invited to have a share of the cake.

At the same time other enterprises like transport, hotels, tourist offices, municipal councils will have to bring innovations to make the show a great success.

And what about the black marketeers, racketeers and the pick-pockets? For years they would have sharpened the instrument of their trades to ply at the highest to the lowest level. For the World Cup does not attract honest people only; as in all of our activities we need to make allowance for all kinds of human beings, without losing our sense of discrimination. Surely think-tanks have been set up for years in some murky underground offices to capitalize on human naivety and weakness. That’s how our society functions. The counterweight will be supplied by police teams which would have been wised up about suspicious figures lurking in the dark, waiting to pound on the innocent.

Flocks of fans from all corners of the world will converge to Moscow, Kaliningrad, St Petersburg, Sotchi and many other Russians cities and arenas where their respective teams would be in action, ready to support them to the last breath.

There would be among them such maestros like Messi, Ronaldo and the latest Salah. We would like to watch their matches, to see whether they can rise to the occasion to supply us with genial footwork combined with their sixth sense of their art. Meanwhile on the stands would be colourful shirts and flags of all the countries of the world, accompanied by musical renditions of all sorts to attract attention, or to tell their players that their fans are present, ready to support them morally.

And among the onlookers would be another kind of bird, those who would be observing, analyzing, and assessing the potentials of new African or third world players, to see whether they have a spark of genius in their play. This would make them the golden geese, who could be bought for two cents, then trained to become superstars and sold later to highest bidders for a fortune. Those are the big clubs employers that we rarely notice; they have come to combine work with pleasure. Side by side will be an armada of some 100 referees and their assistants, ready to rise to the occasion, to come out of this stressful competition by trying to be as impartial as possible.

The favourite

Every four years all of us football fans will have our favourite teams or nations; as we Mauritians will have to wait another century to see our country colours at this show, we have looked elsewhere for loyalty. Most of us have at some time or other supported Brazil, as a nostalgia for King Pele. But since we have been a British colony many have a soft corner for British teams, more so as all throughout the year we are always riveted to the performance of the British football league teams. Someone even aired the view that the World Cup without the British team is stale!!

Unfortunately the England team has been too conservative in its practice of football – there is little innovation that would bring success to the English. We Mauritians have some sentimental attachment to the French language and culture as well, so we do now and then cast a glance at the performance of the French team – after all some of the French commentators are pro-Mauritian in some international sports meet. Yes, every four years we wish to see Argentina’s team in the finals. We keep believing that this time it can be the winner, but it has proved a failure for too long, even with a Messie. This year the great Italians and Dutch will be absent…it’s a great disappointment for many of us. Both Spain and Germany are there as the favourite, more so as the show would be in Europe. The Germans with their sense of discipline, regularity and pragmatism are the favourite of most punters.

In the past we have seen the genius players of some team targeted by opponents, and their chance to lead their countries to the final reduced to nil. We remember Pele in 1966. He was mowed down by the Portuguese; Neymar had to quit for good in the last World Cup, just as Salah was battered by Ramos in the last European cup. Would we see similar anti-hero strategy in this coming World Cup – to bulldoze the opponent for good? Will Messie or Ronaldo suffer such a fate? We’ll wait and see.

What about hooliganism, that modern symptom of a restless youth? A certain percentage of the fans like to express their tribalism in an ancestral fashion. The Russians counterparts, having experienced totalitarianism for 70 years, have finally discovered their raison-d’être in rebound reactions. And surely we’ll have, unfortunately, the news of their doing soon.

Our World Cup has special meaning to some of us. Here we have some billions of people who, for some hours or so, will live simultaneously an event with almost the same emotions, feelings, joy or disappointment or tears: there is something unique in it. We humans always like to come together around a common goal, so that we are on the same wavelength at the same time, and thereby experience a sense of security, of belonging; we know that feeling when all of us pray to the same God. Here there is no God but we have managed to come together to appreciate football matches that drive us on to a common ground, this is the ultimate fun we have – to have a sense of gregariousness – though we are separated by thousands of kilometres.

It is this fantastic feeling of belonging to the same tribe for some 90 minutes that will dominate our psychology; it would reflect what our ancestors felt when they went hunting a beast for venison – their elation and dopamine-dominated mood would have been the hallmark of that adventure, of having cooperated successfully to bring a difficult job to term. And that feeling of belonging to the same tribe still lingers within all of us. But nowadays we no longer go on such perilous hunts. Instead we send our teams to compete and we watch the show together through our electronic apps. We sympathize, we are thrilled, we are amazed, we protest, we laugh, and we cry together, for days and days. Never have billions of people been living the same emotions together for so long.

That’s the mood awaiting us in a few days – courtesy Russia.

* Published in print edition on 8 June 2018

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