I like the rare events that bring tens of millions of people together. In the United States that’s limited to a few holidays and sporting events. It’s one of the reasons I still like Christmas so much, and I’ve got whole lot of friends who are tired of hearing me go on and on about the Super Bowl every year. One hundred and ten million people watch at least a few minutes of the Super Bowl every year, but that pales in comparison to soccer’s* World Cup.
According to FIFA (soccer’s governing body and an institution so corrupt it makes the International Olympic Committee look like Pope Francis) 2.2 billion people watched at least twenty minutes of 2010’s World Cup (over 3 billion when using the metric of “one minute”.) That’s an extremely impressive number considering there are only 7 billion people on the planet. The World Cup final was seen in its entirety by an estimated 531 million people, and over 900 million watched at least a minute of the match. I’m sure FIFA’s numbers are overly generous, but if only one billion people watched a bit of the World Cup in 2010 it’s still pretty mind blowing. These are crazy numbers. To tie this back into religion, there are only 1 billion Catholics in the world, twice that number tuned in for at least a few minutes of The World Cup.
I had originally wanted to call this article “The World is Watching” because it is. The World Cup exists in its own world, there’s nothing else that draws so many different people together regardless of faith, creed, or race (and nearly any other qualifier you want to add as well). Even in the United States soccer is a big deal. Over 100 million Americans watched at least a few minutes of 2010’s World Cup (some of them, most likely, in situations similar to that of my poor wife who is subjected to the Cup despite her objections), and 24 million of us watched the final match as it happened. Even in the United States where soccer is often considered a “niche sport” it’s not really, unless one also wants to start calling the NBA (National Basketball Association) or Major League Baseball niche sports as well.
This year’s World Cup is full of all subplots, and some of them will most likely interest Modern Pagans. A Witch Doctor** from Ghana is claiming to have put a curse on Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players in the world. Ghana and Portugal play in the tournament’s opening round in a grouping that also includes the United States and Germany. If Ghana (or the United States) wants to get to the World Cup’s second stage they have to beat Portugal. Portugal’s World Cup hopes ride on Ronaldo’s feet, if he can’t go, Ghana (and again the US) have a fair chance of beating the National Team of the Shields. (Soccer nick names are not always the best.)
Ronaldo is hurting and currently suffering from a variety of physical ailments. Due to those issues he’s most likely out of “match shape,” which is extremely important since 70% of soccer is simply running a marathon for 90 minutes. Witch Doctor Nana Kwaku Bonsam is taking full credit for this too:
I know what Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury is about, I’m working on him.
I am very serious about it. Last week, I went around looking for four dogs and I got them to be used in manufacturing a special spirit called Kahwiri Kapam.
I said it four months ago that I will work on Cristiano Ronaldo seriously and rule him out of the World Cup or at least prevent him from playing against Ghana and the best thing I can do is to keep him out though injury.
There are more Pagan subplots too. This year’s Cup is in Brazil, a nation that recently had two of its leading pagan religions, Candomble and Umbanda, declared “not religions.” It’s hard to estimate just how many people in Brazil practice Umbanda and Candomble, but I’ve read guesstimates in the millions. Since one can be both a Catholic and a practitioner of these two faiths it’s impossible to come up with a truly reliable number. In the late 90’s I heard some scholars talk about Brazil as the first “Modern Pagan Country” in the world. This is an important development because it has the potential to effect millions of Brazilians, not to mention its implications on religious liberties.
As Brazil comes to grips with a tremendously stupid court decision protests are sweeping through the nation as well. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on this World Cup by the Brazilian government. New stadiums are being built, and entire neighborhoods have been cleared to build them. All of this money is being spent on a sporting event while Brazil underfunds its schools and has a serious problem with homelessness. Brazil loves its futbol, but doesn’t love FIFA or its government right now.
Remember when I mentioned that FIFA was corrupt? This past Sunday certain FIFA officials were caught taking bribes in order to help award the nation of Qatar 2022’s World Cup. In addition to that scandal it’s estimated that almost a thousand people have died while building giant soccer stadiums for that Cup. Sadly those deaths didn’t lead to a whole lot out of outrage in FIFA, but the allegations of bribes has. There’s a growing movement to strip Qatar of The World Cup (or at least revote on who gets to play host to the event). Hopefully this puts it back in the hands of the United States, a nation that has both the infrastructure and stadiums necessary to host such an event.
After writing all of this I really feel like I need a shower. FIFA is an awful organization, and Brazil should probably be doing something other than hosting an event that will draw over 3 billion viewers, but we are stuck with what we’ve got. The athletes who play soccer (next year is the Women’s World Cup, which I watch with equal fervor) are among the world’s best and the crowd’s at the matches are usually fun to watch too. Even if the matches on the pitch come up lacking, there’s no end to the various threads and story-lines circulating around this year’s World Cup.
My pick to win the Cup: Spain
Also of note, England and the United States will both make it to the knock-out round.
*I know some of you call this sport “football” and that’s fine and dandy. As an American I use the term soccer, a word which was used to describe the beautiful game up until the 1980’s in Great Britain, at least according to the book Soccernomics.
**I’m not wild about the word “Witch Doctor” but since it’s being used by most major media outlets I’m going to go with it. I’m sure Bonsam has a name for what he practices within his own tradition.
The picture of Ronaldo was borrowed from Wikipedia Commons.