The Real Football and Reconciliation
Soccer opens the door for reconciliation. Right… tell that to Scotland’s Celtic and Rangers fans…
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.
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?