As I write this the World Cup is less than 90 days away. National team managers and coaches have named their latest teams for friendlies and have begun to finalize their own squads, as countries from all four corners of the world prepare to fly their flags.
Despite the political backdrop and all that somehow inevitably seems to follow Russia around these days, I cannot wait for the world to stop for the four weeks or so as it seems to do every four years. There is so much to love about the World Cup. Fans of all 32 teams will be there, making their voices heard, representing their countries with all the same pride as the players, though in a very different way. Sport has amazing power. Often the focus is on players and athletes who have used sport and its rewards to uplift their own personal circumstances. On the odd occasion the focus falls on those who give back to their communities in very meaningful ways. When that focus does fall on fans, it is oftentimes for the wrong reasons. World Cups are different though.
In 2006 Trinidad and Tobago qualified for their first ever World Cup. I was honoured to be a part. It meant a lot to me as a player who’d dreamt of wearing his national team colours. As a fan I’d shed tears at our previous near-misses, and as a T&T national as we prepared to showcase our culture and our national personality to the world. We didn’t go in to the tournament thinking that we’d win it...well, maybe secretly. :-) But we were definitely taking part and were going to be sure you knew it.
As players we were bussed into the heart of the stadiums, and then bussed straight back out after the games. We didn’t get to interact with the fans at all. Understandable from a security standpoint, but I missed that experience. Especially when my wife told me about all that was going on away from the games at the Fan Zones. During the group stage rounds the Fan Zones become each country’s impromptu Expo. Fans are playing music, sharing food and teaching passers by about their dances, cuisines and cultures. My wife speaks of her experiences with the fondest of memories. My kids got to see the world walking the streets of Germany. The camaraderie and pride on display did not suggest that competition was at all the backdrop to all of this, and that is the one aspect of sport that I believe is too often lost on the focus of whatever the result may be. Sport is about the fans making their teams better than the sum of its parts. Sport is cultural, more so than it is competitive. More important than the result, certainly in the long term, is the humbleness in victory and the graciousness in defeat. It’s about our ability to show exactly who we are when met with either fate.
The four weeks of the World Cup allows us to lose sight of the politics of the day, and celebrate our similarities and our differences in the same voice. We can all win this thing somehow.