Football, the religion

Vincent Kundukulam

We have come to the end of FIFA football world cup 2018. The way the world has been celebrating the event, called to my mind the ample features of postmodern religion. Postmodern man, in difference to modern man, is a believer. The events that happened in the first half of the 20th century, especially those at the times of the Second World War made him/her realize about the limitations of reason and science, and the need of faith in order to face the crisis in life. This coming back to beliefs, surprisingly, does not strengthen the institutionalized religions. Instead, people want to have their own religious practices based on their subjective aspirations. In fabricating the religious beliefs and practices of their own they largely borrow elements from the various religious traditions. Their main concern is to have an experience of ecstasy both individually and collectively under the guise of semi-religious rituals.

The way in which multitudes of people have responded to the world-cup, unveils some traits of the postmodern way of living religiosity. From the beginning of this world cup we saw people all over the world and especially the youth, supporting the clubs of their stars, forgetting their national, religious and racial distinctions. The stars are like semi gods for these football believers and their pictures, venerated by their adepts. A number of flux boards and banners appeared on the streets all over the state. People did not care about spending any amount of money for their favourite teams. The adepts contributed to the expense, just as the faithful give offerings on a sabbath. Even the altar-boys had placed huge cut-outers of Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo on the church walls. If one examines the religious identity of the members who opted for Argentina, Portugal and Brazil, they are a group consisting of Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Neither have they cared about the religious identity of the stars. Football has become an all-encompassing identity surpassing the barriers and inhibitions that are created by the traditional religions in people.

Etymologically, the term religion derives from the Latin root relegare meaning “to unite.” Religion helps man to live in unity, vertically and horizontally. The vertical dimension of religion puts emphasis on the union of the human person with the transcendental powers whereas the horizontal dimension focuses on the solidarity among the people. The football matches have divided the youngsters into small sects having separated icons, symbols and slogans. At the incredible performance of their veterans, the supporters are raised up to some sorts of sublime experiences which touch the realm of the Transcendent. The volcanic expression of immense joy that is being expressed in varied ways like whistling, howling, shrilling, singing and oscillating together, creates an atmosphere of trance in which the entire mass of viewers in the stadium and those before the televisions, enter into an experience of communion and fellowship.

Some of the activities in the stadium resemble the rituals of the Holy Mass. Just as the celebrant enters the church with the altar boys and girls, the players enter the stadium in the company of children with special uniforms. The entry of players to the stadium accompanied by music reminds us of the entrance song played in the churches. Like in the church the mob stands up and salutes the stars at the peak moments of the game. If we continue such a comparative reading we may discover many other similarities between the practices in the stadium and the rituals performed by different religious traditions. By making such a statement, I do not mean to identify football with the Sacraments of any religion. Rather, I wish to bring before the religious sentiments instilled in the public, and to show how the world cup has created such an emotion.

When the gods in whom they trust don’t succeed, the postmodern man has no difficulty in changing gods and religions. Similarly, in football when the teams, for example, Germany and Spain found their way out of the course, their supporters joined the teams of Argentina Portugal and Brazil, which comprised of the beacons of the “game-world.” The postmodern religiosity is very much pragmatic. People want to believe in gods not because they see in them the real Absolute, but simply because they suit their likings and needs. Effectiveness, satisfaction, usefulness, competence and successfulness are the qualities they expect from their divinities. Once they find that their gods are not successful they search for new ones. There are people who live as a Hindu early morning, a Christian until noon, an atheist in the evening and a Muslim at night.

Among these believers of “football religion,” there exists also a minority that exhibits orthodox character. When their stars and beliefs prove to be a failure, they become defensive and turn against those who defeated their favourite teams. Thus formed groups like “anti-French” “anti-Belgium” “anti-Croatia” and many more. However, a few people from the outset, did not select the favourite team in terms of stars. Their point of attraction was the play and its aesthetics. In religions also there are people who give importance to values and virtues. Hoping that the interplay between religion and football will not end up in transforming religiosity into a mere play, even though the games will continue to borrow many elements from the many religions.

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