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Church of the World Cup

I am a third-generation citizen of Red Sox Nation. My grandfather went to one of the World Series Games at Fenway Park in 1946. My father wanted his ashes spread in right field. I remember the heartache in 1967, 1975, and 1986. This was high drama for me as a kid, and until a few years ago, I watched sports with a reverence reserved only for religion and liberal politics.

The World Cup in Qatar sums up my feelings about professional sports now: it’s just another opiate of the masses. And a dangerous one. “Qatar hosting the soccer World Cup is like Donald Trump becoming president of the United States. It should not have happened, but the very fact that it did only exposes how bad things have become."

“Wait!” I hear you say. “What about the camaraderie? The singing? The shared love-hate-disappointment-ecstasy? The way a team can bring a community together?”

You can look at religion the same way: pour in tons of money, oversell its ability to effect societal good, ignore the damage it causes, and deify its celebrities.

It’s all fun and games until somebody gets genocidal.

Qatar bought the right to host—nothing else about the country justifies having the Cup there. They used essentially slave labor to construct the venues, and it’s so hot in Qatar that they moved the event to the middle of the regular season for European teams because holding it during the summer would have jeopardized all the athletes. “This is as preposterous as running the World Series over Christmas week—in Jeddah.”

Football hooligans have long been a screaming beacon of reasons not to follow professional sports, much like the rioters in Philadelphia (2018), Vancouver (2011), Detroit (1990), and Boston (2004, 2007, 2013) following championship wins or losses. (But the singing! The community! The grace, the beauty!) In the Detroit riots of 1990, eight people died. Thirty-nine people died in Brussels in 1985 during a European Cup final. (Poetry in motion!)

In England, the incidence of domestic abuse rises as much as 38% after the home side loses a major match. (Just the lads being high-spirited.) Americans have many more sports to riot about—basketball, baseball, (American) football—so maybe soccer alone doesn’t cause as much intimate partner violence on this side of the Atlantic.

We live on a planet dying from climate change, where democratically elected leaders govern only 46% of the world, where war rages on three continents, and over 800 million people go to bed hungry. Yet we spend hundreds of millions on sports in a country so backward that women are less than second-class citizens, the legal system sanctions the removal of body parts for certain crimes, and homosexuality is illegal.

We’re satisfied with the circus—we’ll bring our own bread, thank you very much.

Who needs to go to church on Sunday when the Pats are playing?


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