As the world is now honing in on the World Cup football in Russia, there seems to be a sharp division in the global population. On the one side, the football fanatics who live and dream football and on the other side, people with no passion or even understanding of the game called soccer in the United States of America. The very name itself indicates that football as such is not the most popular game in that land consistently sitting atop as the front runner of an array of Olympic disciplines.
Yet football is the most global sport of all. Even the US has started developing soccer taste of late. Its men team has played in earlier WCs but its women's outfit has distinguished itself by winning the ultimate title. Once, this part of the world also saw this game to flourish. This was because of its early introduction by the English who ruled the subcontinent. Barefooted amateur football players had the courage and skill to beat English teams, the players of which had jerseys and boots on.
Those days are gone. Today cricket craze in the subcontinent has replaced that of football. Worried, sports authorities in India have planned for revival of a number of games including kabadi, hockey and football. The journey for some of the games will be long but the initiatives have started reaping dividends. India and Pakistan once enjoyed indisputable supremacy in hockey. Now they are among the 10 best teams but in international championships fail to clinch titles. It is in cricket that the two nations either rule the roost or stay in the top half of the Ivy league. Bangladesh has of late gained enough strength to challenge the very best.
Against such a background, football announces its special attraction and popularity after every four years when the WC is staged. The competition's format and participation have undergone changes and with the rise of African and Asian teams triggering renewed interests in parts of these two continents, emotion and passion run high among their followers. This much is understood but what is not comprehensible is the extraordinary enthusiasm common people here demonstrate during the WC. Football fever sweeps countries in the subcontinent in an unbelievable way so much so that even the most popular game cricket is temporarily banished from the collective mind and discourse.
When the main football stadium in the capital remain empty during the local premier league, how is that football at the highest level keeps a strong following here intoxicated. For about a month, not only the fans already under its spell but also a large body of converts live football, dream football and at times behave in the most unlikely manner. Their daily routine changed, fans feast on sumptuous dishes of artistry on the green canvas late at night. A country that sadly notices its football team wallowing at the bottom of the world ranking, has to contend with behaviour and practices at times to the extreme.
That supporters of different teams -mostly Argentina and Brazil - here hoist flags of those nations has now become acceptable. Followers are trying to draw consolation by proxy from their psychological attachment with teams from countries with which they can identify themselves. Their appetite for football glory for their national team is unlikely to be fulfilled in the foreseeable future. So they make the best choices of nations that have been struggling, like their own country, to get rid of poverty, hunger, unemployment and underdevelopment. The European supremacy of power football has been more than challenged by the Latin artistry.
If the national ethos of Brazil and Argentina is best expressed through their football talents, on individual level the poor and the neglected get an opportunity to make their dream come true through football. Boys from ghettoes of Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires have exploded on the world stage of football with their gifted skill and magical manoeuvre. Also, this game has demonstrated its quality to overcome the psychological repression and inhibition of a long reign of dictatorship particularly in Argentina and Chile.
On this count football acts as a liberating spirit for the oppressed and the down-trodden. Perhaps the same spirit lives in every soul gasping under financial hardships in this part of the world too. On another plane, then, football is a leveller. It is so because the pent-up excitement, emotion and passion when let go with goals scored by favourite players or teams is liberating enough. What else does explain the collective deafening roars from viewers in Bangladesh when Messi and Rojo scored goals on Wednesday night? The emotional extension went as much as to raising slogans breaking the silence of early hours immediately after the match that Messi and company won.
Followers cannot be blamed for their craze for football because they are hungry for success by their national team. When they see no chance of this, they shift their support vicariously and there lies the extra mile journey for followers here. Yet there is a need to draw the line. Bloody clashes between supporters of Argentina and Brazil, as reported in the media, should expose the bankruptcy of the spirit that sustains football. Like all other sports and games, football also is a practice of containing physical and mental aggression in order to channel it into disciplinary performances. The uncertainty of the proceeding only corresponds to that of life itself. There lies the beauty and greatness of the game. Not only players but football fans also need to inculcate this extraordinary spirit of football -- in other words life.
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