It happens every four years. A one month fiesta of football or soccer depending on where you are, that brings many nations in the world to a standstill. Maybe it's just me, but apart from the skill and determination that has been on show from many of the teams, there seems to be a very liberal dose of faith. I cannot remember ever seeing so many crosses before at a World Cup. No, I am not talking about those delivered from the player on the wing to the centre forward. I mean the numerous"signs of the cross" during the game, often made as players prepare to come on as substitutes or take free kicks. I guess that means that most of the teams are playing for Jesus. How confusing this must be even for a holy trinity.
Indeed, I always thought that a World Cup must be a very difficult thing for God to deal with. With so many players and prayers how does he keep it all straight in his head? Maybe he has the schedule with all the matches laid out so he can work out exactly what each match result must be in order for his divine plan to be carried out. This may explain why in the course of the tournament players will get injured on the eve of matches and superstars like Ronaldo, Rooney and Messi will underperform. It is not that God hates these players it's just that the opposition's prayers must be given priority sometimes.
What I can't understand is why a God would allow referees to underperform. Surely no team prays that their team will win due to an error by an official. Which team out there wants their victory to be tainted? It doesn't seem to make sense for an omnipotent being to go that route to manufacture a desired result. For example, why go through the trouble of allowing England to score a goal and then letting the referee incorrectly disallow it. It would seem to me that the easier thing for God to do would be to slightly alter the wind direction to modify the trajectory of the ball so that it bounced in front of the goal line instead of behind. It would have meant no goal and no controversy and his "will" would still have been done, so much less complicated. And, that was not the only time in the World Cup that God worked in a mysterious way. In the Caribbean we have a saying, " God don't sleep and he don't like ugly." Surely he must have at least dosed off a bit at the end of Ghana's quarterfinal match.
On a more serious but very related note; I have listened with interest as commentators debate the use of goal line technology and instant replays during the game. There are also calls for rule changes so that "penalty goals" can be awarded sometimes, so that football does not turn into volleyball at the end of a match. Many are unequivocal in support for more technology and rule changes if necessary. They maintain that the most important thing is to achieve fairness and get the decision right. We should use everything at our disposal to get as close to 100% accuracy as possible. Curiously, for everyone that expounds this position there is another expert that vehemently opposes the introduction of technology or a reexamination of the rules. The claim is that it would interfere with the beauty of the game, the flow of the football. Introducing change is tantamount to spitting in the face of the noble traditions of the sport. In reality it is the old status quo argument that is strangely so convincing to many; "It can't be done that way because it's never been done that way."
This ongoing debate in the premiere world tournament is basically a reflection of the faith debate that we atheists engage in everyday. We are like the sportscaster that begs for more technology. We just can't understand how any aspect in an argument can have a greater weight than truth. We are determined to find the real winner every time. Like our sports commentator counterparts we are embarrassed by the fact that in spite of scientific advancement the same type of referee error made in 1966 can return to haunt us in 2010. However, for us it goes so much further.
We have even greater embarrassment in recognising that some commentators today prefer us not to use modern technology to investigate the claims made by referees of 2000 years ago. We scoff at the idea that the beauty of faith should be defended rather than broken down by the surging attack of an enlightened age. We wonder how the theory of evolution could be fully tested and proven yet irrationally rejected by the fundamentalists out there on the field of play. Our opponents counter by suggesting that keeping the human element is more important, the beauty of the primitive man's intuition that gave rise to creation myths is far too valuable to be lost even when it is clearly wrong for all to see. Modernising the game of life with the latest scientific thinking is to destroy its very foundation, they say. We must believe because we have always believed. God's rules never change. For many the single goal of truth is overwhelmed by the multiple goals of tradition supported by culture, history and faith.
So, for the moment, the hand of God seems destined to continue its influence in the world. England in 1986 found out how devastating the hand of God can be in football, now Ghana seem to have endured a modern day version first hand. Of course, we have all seen in the wider world the intervention of the hand of God more often dividing than uniting. However, hope may be coming at least as far as football is concerned. Lately, rather than in the hand of God it is in the tentacle of an octopus that many football fans have more faith.