The Beautiful Game

The 2006 World Cup has ended. Italy is world champion, France is second and Germany is third.

No other world sporting event is truly an international tournament like soccer’s World Cup.

The World Cup tournament began in Uruguay in 1930, spearheaded by Jules Rimet, the president of the French Football Federation. He said, “Soccer could reinforce the ideals of a permanent and real peace,” as he pushed to organize an international event that would not discriminate between professional or amateur status.

The Second World War put a 12-year stop to the competition. It resumed in 1958 and rapidly advanced to its undisputed status as the greatest single sporting event of the modern world.

Held alternately in Europe and the Americas, the World Cup broke new ground with the selection of Korea and Japan as co-hosts for the 2002 edition.

Soccer — or football as it’s called elsewhere — has been dubbed “the Beautiful Game.” In 1977, Brazil’s Pelé, one of soccer’s greatest superstars, entitled his autobiography “My Life and the Beautiful Game.” In it, Pelé wrote, “I dedicate this book to all the people who have made this great game the Beautiful Game.” The Beautiful Game has put the global public under its spell as billions tune in to witness the players’ amazing athletic talent and fancy footwork.

While the aspirations of the athletes and Rimet to make the World Cup into a forum for sportsmanship and peace, racism and crass corporate profiteering have marred the Beautiful Game. Racist harassment at the beginning of this year’s Cup made worldwide news. (It’s important to note this was challenged by athletes, fans and FIFA officials.) Italy has been embroiled in a soccer scandal directly related to right-winger and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, involving millions of dollars. France has a multiracial team attacked by right-wingers as not being “French.”

And then there was the head butt. During the 2006 finals the captain and superstar of the French national team Zinedine Zidane head-butted Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the chest after they exchanged words. Speculation has abounded whether the Italian called Zidane a “dirty terrorist.” Zidane, who was born in Marseille and is the son of parents who migrated to France from Algeria, was ejected from the game and Materazzi denied the charge. Zidane has apologized for his action, especially to the millions of children who watched.

Sports are not above — but a part of — the world political situation. As online journalist Larry Chin said, the word “terrorist” has turned into the ultimate epithet. “For this, we must thank the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney administration … their endless war, and the disinformation apparatus that continues to monger ignorant fear in every corner of the world, and deep in the brain synapses of every person on earth.”

We hope by 2010, when the World Cup will be held in South Africa — the first time on the African continent — the world situation will be different and improved. South African President Thabo Mbeki said, “The 2010 Soccer World Cup belongs to the many Africans who in many parts of the world engage in a continuous struggle against racism and xenophobia. Africa’s time has come. Come home to Africa.”

The Beautiful Game in Africa can be all that with successful struggles for peace, democracy and equality by the world’s people. And we pledge to do our part in the U.S.