Sunday, July 29, 2007

Iraq! (with an unsarcastic exclamation point, seriously)

Iraq beat Saudi Arabia to win the Asia Cup.

Think about what that phrase could mean. Again, "Iraq beat Saudi Arabia." Sports have that ability to take actions and phrases so far out of context it creates totally new meaning. So the Miracle on Ice was far more than a hockey game. So quarterbacks throw "bombs" and pitchers throw "bullets" from their "guns."

But now, a day or so removed from an announcement stating the US will sell Saudi Arabia a massive shipment of arms, the exact "arms" we're talking about, in a soccer game, can't be used!

And the winning goal was scored by the head of the Iraqi captain, Younis Mahmoud, off a corner kick. Isn't that perfect? The leader of the team uses his head to win. Where's that in the real war?

In the end sports are games. They are entertainment. But just like many comedians manage to pack their jokes with profound observations, sports are often able to present our own lives to us in a fresh perspective, helping us to see the world in a new way. How ridiculous do the bombings after Iraq's victory over South Korea look considering they targeted something so pleasing as sports? How unnecessary and straight up brutal? And it works the other way as well: how much did America rethink its leisure and safety when sporting events were cancelled after September 11?

There is a reason why Plato and the Greeks considered the gymnasium (wrestling) to be as fundamental a part of a youth's education as any of his other lessons. (And the obese societies of today spend their time fighting over whether dodgeball should be forbidden in elementary schools because some teams lose).

I sit here, in Jerusalem, straining and squinting to watch an Arsenal game streamed live over the internet. It's being broadcasted in Chinese. One of the announcers sneezed, or so I thought, because the other kept talking normally, as if the sneeze was a word in Chinese...

And did I mention it was a preseason game with no real influence on the season?

The point is that sports hold a power as deep and forceful as the inspiration, passion, and love that each athlete implements and relies on in every game, match, or race. Iraq's coach, Jorvan Vieira, said "This has brought great happiness to a whole country. This is not about a team, this is about human beings." And it makes me think about home field advantage, that curious phenomenon in sports. How can the fervid motivation from a group of people not actually playing transfer into one of the participants and affect the outcome? Did the Iraqi players really feel their country's energy today? Isn't that amazing?

I wonder if we could use that same idea in the world at large--if we could transfer our fervid wishes for peace or compassion or whatever onto the politicians and the people on the ground.

I know it's not that simple. It would be more than idealistic to assume a group of people could sit to together, meditating, and (like The Force in Star Wars or something) change events across the globe. But I saw how the World Cup revitalized Germany. And the number of wars that have stopped because of a soccer game are too many to count (the most recent, maybe, being when the chaos in Haiti settled down because the Brazilian national team came to play). I guess we should keep our feet solidly on the ground here and just say that there's a lot to learn from the peculiar realm of sportsdom.

So while Iraq remains in war their athletes “felt the burn” and “fought the pain” and survived an "onslaught" in the last minutes to protect their goal. They were "bombarded" but "dug in deep" and now go home as "victors," as "champions." Who knows, maybe there will even be a parade...

If only sports were a little more real.