During the World Cup, I watched as many games as possible. I watched them here at home, I watched a couple of games in Turkey where they were broadcast at 11:00 PM and ended at 2:00 AM, (when games were solved by penalty kicks at the end of the game) and I watched one game in Frankfurt, Germany, where it started at 10:00 AM. While soccer is increasing in popularity in the United States, in other parts of the world, everything comes to a stop and they watch the soccer games.
In addition to the games, there are always other aspects to look for. Economists are looking to see if major sports events ever help a country economically (and most of them agreed that it is strictly prestige that is gained), politicians are seeking to show themselves in a different light, as when the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, watched the game between Germany and Argentina seated next to Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia. The reason for this seating arrangement was that the 2018 Soccer World Cup will be held in Russia. At the same time, I guess it was easier to sit next to Putin than next to the President of Argentina.
One of the oddities that I always look for is to see how the athletes participate in the singing of their countries’ anthems. I know that it is an issue of freedom – they do not have to sing. I know that they were not selected because of their of their singing but because of their athletic abilities. I know that some athletes may not be able to carry a tune. Yet, in spite of all these things, I still love to see the entire team sing enthusiastically. At least to me, it demonstrates the pride and the enthusiasm that they carry for their country, which has selected them to be its athletic representatives.
If there was a religious discussion around these games, it was the fasting that occurred because it was the Feast of Ramadan. I was impressed by the Muslim soccer players who chose to fast during their difficult games and for others who had serious discussion with their imams about the exceptional clauses. Taking one’s faith seriously reminded me of the well known athlete Eric Liddell, who in 1924 at the Olympics Games held in Paris, decided not to run on Sundays because for him, the day was committed to worshipping God. Eric Liddell became a missionary to China and the movie Chariots of Fire celebrates his athleticism and his commitment to Christ.
The other religious symbolism during these games was the Roman Catholic players making the sign of the holy cross when they came into the game, when the scored, and when they came out of the game. It was a silent act of praise to the God whom they serve, thanking Him for the opportunity granted to them to play in this World Cup.