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The “god” of soccer

Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlassios Hierotheos

The month of June was marked by the world cup in soccer held in Japan-Korea. Many people watched the games between the national teams for several hours a day and knew a lot about these games.

What impressed me was a “prayer” written by an anglican “priest” called Fletcher on the eve of the crucial match between England and Brazil. The prayer was broadcast by the BBC According to the “Eleftherotypia” newspaper (22 June 2002), the prayer is the following: “Rise up o Lord and prevent Brazil from dominating over us. Spread terror over them, Lord. Rise up and extend Your hand to suppress the force of Rivaldo and Ronaldo. Plunge Ronaldinio to confusion and, Allmighty Lord, if this does not work either, at least grant us a goal in the last minute, even if from an offside position. Help us, Lord, reach the final, even if it will be held on a Sunday and no one will go to church!” According to “Eleftheros Typos” (21 June 2002) the prayer also contained the phrase “make their goalposts look like … an airport runway and their goalkeeper small like an ant”. And the newspaper commented: “Mercy!”.

At first sight, the content of this prayer brings laughter and creates the impression that one should not take these things seriously. However, the subject has also some very interesting aspects.

For many people, soccer is a religion, a worship. Several expressions used are taken from religion. Spectators sit in the stands and their “gods”, the soccer players, contest as another twelve/eleven gods in the field for Victory. Since soccer is considered by many as a new worship, there is certainly their own god, the god of soccer. They pray to this non-existing god. In fact, there are phrases like “the law of soccer”, “the ball punishes”, “a magician player”. We read in “Kathimerini”: “So we witnessed this year the enlightened of the West break easily the superstition record – one (the coach of Italy) drops ritually some holy water given to him in a bottle by his nun sister; the other (the coach of Spain) kisses passionately, but secretly (so that he is not captured by the eagerly waiting blasphemous cameras) a small icon kept in his purse, probably of San Jose Goleador. But the first prize for superstition goes to the English, who for many years now have been worshipping Beckham as the thirteenth Apostle, and this is why they built him a huge statue in Trafalgar Square, to worship in his shadow and pray”. “The fans of all teams respect the customs of superstition -- they cross themselves, they murmur hocus-pocus, they tie their fingers, they pray to Allah. But whatever their religion or their soccer god, after all they remain faithful to the doctrine of self-idolatry” (30-6-2002, p.4). After Brazil’s victory they wrote: the German Bild: “God is Brazilian”. The French “Equipe”: “Brazil to eternity”. The “Washington Post”: “A divine carnival of victory. The conquest of the World Cup by Brazil was an opportunity for the glorification of the religion of soccer” (Eleftherotypia, Tuesday 2-7-2002).

Returning to the prayer of the anglican “priest”, let me point out that this shows another reality too, that unfortunately we have spoiled even the holiest moments in our life. Prayer is the most holy communication with God, it is an “intercourse between man and God”. But we pervert even this holy case. We make similar prayers when we ask God to help us in lowly aims and in our worse human passions, to succeed professionally, to gain something, to attract attention or interest, to multiply our money, to see someone punished, to satisfy unlawful and illegal pleasures and ambitions.

We have to understand that prayer is done mostly for the therapy of our soul. We cannot use the name of God for futile matters. Otherwise, we fool not God but ourselves.