The Real Football and Reconciliation

Soccer opens the door for reconciliation. Right… tell that to Scotland’s Celtic and Rangers fans…

Celtic and Rangers clash in 2008

But it really does. It is probably because the sport is such a global success that, especially in countries that accept a lot of refugees and immigrants, people who normally would not find belonging can gather, kick, run, and be home.

Warren St. John wrote about one such team in his book Outcasts United. The story follows an Arab lesbian woman and her team(s) of young refugees from Liberia, Afghanistan, and other desperate places as they play soccer together in a poor suburb of Atlanta. Not only does it describe the reconciliation that happens for the team members, but it shows how the team ultimately transforms a community, and a coach.

One reason Americans should feel sad that generally we don’t know more about this sport is that, for many people, it is the world language. Forget math or music – those subjects require education, so they can’t always be appreciated by poor farmers, or women, or child laborers. But somehow, most of the world has figured out soccer.

South Africa is known for reconciliation, but also for the pains it takes daily to continue to work toward peace. South Africans have become increasingly xenophobic since the fall of apartheid, so foreign nationals are always at an increased risk of violence. As the World Cup approaches (one day away, folks!), police are strategizing to protect the foreign nationals in attendance.

President Zuma knows what an honor it is to host the World Cup, and has called it the most important year for South Africa since 1994, when apartheid ended.

It will indeed be that, if the World Cup is capable of reconciling races and classes in a whole country still very divided. But you can ask those Celtic and Rangers fans and they’ll gladly tell you: even soccer has a hard time working miracles.

Join in!

Have you seen sports unite an unlikely group? How?


This report outlines some of the causes of xenophobia in South Africa today.

National Geographic just ran a World Cup-inspired article on the healing of South Africa. As with any NG article, I’m not sure how long it will stay up online, so read it soon!

Sadly a lot of us in America don’t know much about some of the biggest rivalries in history. If the Celtic/Rangers’ Old Firm rivalry is new to you, check it out. It has been the cause of many deaths. Who said sport has to be amusement?

2 Responses to “The Real Football and Reconciliation”
  1. Darrell says:

    Sports can have a coming together effect on the population of the city, country, etc. of one side or the other, but my experience has been that it doesn’t do much for the participants. I don’t think rivalries bring the rivals together but the supporters can come together in a common purpose of defeating the rival.

    Good examples would be how Memphis, a racially divided city for much of its history, comes together to support the University of Memphis basketball team in the NCAA tournment. The three final four years are the classics. Another example would be the 1968 Detroit Tigers during the Detroit riots.

    In the service, I was on a pick up team of Marines who had never played together before but we played a team that we were told was the best team in the Phillipines. The Filipinos were well versed in the fundementals and played hard in the brutal tropical heat. The game was played outside in the afternoon and the temperature was just awful. There were probably a hundred Filipinos who came out of the jungles to watch and cheer for their team. They played hard and it was a very physical game as the TV announcers say. There was one Filipino ref and one Marine ref. We were all over six feet and they were all under six feet and as John Calipari would say, you can’t teach size. We scored over a hundred and they were in the 90’s. It brought us together and it brought them together but I don’t know what it did other than that. It was fun though and its a good memory.

  2. Michael says:

    I just started the prayer guide on the Not for Sale website. Very moving. The idea that we are to be watchmen for the cities that are guilty of sex-trafficking in the way that Ezekiel was a watchman for the people of Israel, warning them of the coming justice.

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