For nearly a month, from the middle of June to mid-July, most of the world took time off from life’s usual challenges and enjoyed the best of the “beautiful game” as the World Cup unfolded in Brazil. Football teams from around the world were cheered by their ardent supporters – whether fans were still living in the country they hoped would hoist the World Cup or were the sons and daughters of immigrants who had long ago left their native lands. The games played on regardless of the weather, in blazing Brazilian heat or tropical rainstorms.
The games played on regardless of pockets of criticism within the host country that the cost was exorbitant and the funding could have been put to much better use. And the games played on regardless of world crises trying to supplant football’s stories of victory and defeat, of players rising to the challenge of being the best or failing miserably to achieve what was expected of them.
Wildfires in the Middle East
Iran qualified to field a team in the 2014 World Cup, ensuring that the Arab world was well represented in Brazil. Notwithstanding that Iran played very well in the Group Stage, it was unable to advance to the round of 16 and was eliminated early. While this country, primarily a Shiite Muslim nation, is trying to emerge as a significant contributor to achieving greater stability in the Middle East, it is surrounded by Sunni adherents. Extremists within that group have intensified the call to Jihad, a holy war, and proclaimed a new caliphate. While the world was watching the World Cup, the extremists, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, took control of significant parts of Iraq, and merged with rebel forces in Syria to extend the new caliphate across its borders.
The United States, having withdrawn its forces from Iraq, was sidelined into watching its Iraq achievements, as tenuous as they had been, disintegrate with feeble resistance from Iraqi forces. Now Iraq will likely be dismembered, with the Kurds in the north proclaiming their independence, the Sunni extremists surrounding Baghdad and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki left with nothing but a rump nation to govern. To try to stem further losses and total state disintegration, Iran and Russia have come to the Iraq government’s assistance. Even with that assistance, however, it is uncertain whether the government can regain much of the territory now under Sunni extremist, or Kurdish, control. And unfortunately for the Baghdad government, this lost territory includes much of Iraq’s oil wealth.
The high cost of revenge
On the same day the World Cup started in Brazil, three Israeli teens were kidnapped in the West Bank. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the kidnapping, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denied its participation. On June 30, the three teens were found, apparently murdered soon after their capture. Two days later, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and killed. Palestinians called for revenge for their teen’s murder.
Two weeks later, avenging the lives of these four teens has escalated into an outright battle for supremacy once again between Palestinians and Israel, which will further derail frail peace initiatives. Palestinian forces launch missiles into Israeli territory; Israeli forces retaliate to destroy the launching sites, often located near residential areas, which has killed over 100 Palestinians so far (at the time of writing). Because President Abbas will not call for a stop to attacks on Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently massing Israeli troops on the Gaza Strip border, threatening a ground offensive. The United Nations Security Council called for a ceasefire, asking both sides in the conflict to reinstate a previous cease-fire negotiated by Egypt in 2012. However, it is uncertain whether the sides will accede to pressure from allies and stand down. The amount of blood-letting in acts of revenge sometimes knows no bounds.
Although Ukraine did not qualify for the World Cup finals, the success its new president, Petro Poroshenko, was enjoying in re-establishing Kiev’s authority in the eastern part of his nation was more than a welcome consolation for failing to get to Brazil. The Ukraine army has successfully won control back in swaths of territory surrounding the last rebel stronghold in Donetsk. Rebels there, fearing a major government offensive, blew up infrastructure in a desperate attempt to foil the government’s advance. It appears Russia has until now lived up to its commitment to close its borders and make it difficult for Russian sympathizers to move into Ukraine’s east to stop the central government’s troop advance.
Although it is four years away, Russia has some reason to become less the pariah on the world stage. It will host the World Cup in 2018. There is no time like the present to try to re-establish some good will as countries start planning to send teams and supporters to Moscow for the next World Cup. FIFA, the World Cup’s governing body, also urgently requires the Russian hosts to ensure everything goes smoothly for its next big event. FIFA is already facing a significant challenge in dealing with bribery and corruption allegations regarding the 2022 World Cup, awarded to Qatar. Not to mention the stifling heat in that country, which would make the hottest of Brazil’s games appear like an oasis. So FIFA does not need any anguish regarding the 2018 Russia World Cup. This pressure will hopefully assist in mitigating Russian ambitions to extra-territorial dominance.
Unexpected World Cup star
Viewers of the World Cup’s final game were entertained by the football mastery of two very capable teams. The skill of the German squad finally won out in the struggle with Lionel Messi’s Argentine team on the pitch in Rio de Janeiro. Television viewers also had a spectacular view of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue silhouetted by a setting sun as the game, and the 2014 World Cup, drew to a close. It did seem the perfect benediction to the month-long event. When the image was shown on the scoreboard inside the stadium, #ChristTheRedeemer quickly trended worldwide on Twitter and Instagram. It didn’t take long for media outlet Buzzfeed to dub the statue the “unexpected star of the World Cup final.”
Christians should welcome the social media buzz created by the larger-than-life statue of Jesus blessing the closing the game from high atop the nearby mountain. More importantly, we should proclaim that Christ the Redeemer who lives is our only genuine hope when confronting the ongoing wars and tribulation plaguing the world on so many different stages.