“Allah Akbar, ” God is Great was the voice from the Muezzin calling on Muslims that fateful Friday which happened to be the first day of the World Cup match between France and Senegal. The timing of the competition collided with the afternoon Jumuat service. Surprisingly during the sermon only few were in the mosque but others joined during the brief main prayer. Immediately the Imam finished the prayer, some Muslims hurriedly rushed back to continue watching the event. The same night from the BBC Hausa service was a fan being interviewed mentioning Insha Allah that Nigerian is destined to win and he would be praying day and night for the success of the Nigerian team.
The same football fanaticism was also captured in a newspaper front page story (Saturday Guardian of June 1, 2002, “Fans Torn Between Faith and Soccer”) which reported that the Nigerian match fixed for 6.30 a.m., had compelled some church leaders to adjust their services to enable their teeming members to watch the game and thereafter worship. In fact the paper continued that the Archbishop of Canterbury announced the postponement of church services till the afternoon after a crucial match.
In another news story (the Monitor of June21, 2002 p32,) it was reported that a Church of England vicar, Jeremy Fletcher, wrote a special prayer beseeching God to annul the talent of Brazil’s feared trio of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho for the World Cup quarter-final showdown and asked God to put them into confusion. He went on to say “O God, if nothing else, award us a dubious offside goal in the last minute!” Not only did some worship centres adjust their prayer time, others went further to turn the sanctified places into viewing centres. A newspaper (the Punch of Saturday of June 2, 2002), gave the readers an inconceivable picture of a colorful banner conspicuously placed on a Lagos church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which invited everybody, no discrimination, to watch matches on television at the church’s auditorium. The church explained that a standby generator had been put in place to ensure a hitch free viewing.
The Saudi team from a sacred Kingdom where millions troop to for spiritual pilgrimage annually, was mercilessly trounced by a less known religious Germany. The same German team also dealt a heavy blow on the Superpower- America whose popular slogan and maxim is in God we Trust. What can someone say of Chinese Team, from the centre of Buddhism that was humiliated in its continent?
Extreme fanaticism was also reported (in the Comet of June 17, 2002 p36) that a 45-year-old South Korean critically burnt himself alive to support the national team for the crucial world cup. In fact another two died of heart attack(Nigerian Tribune June 21, p40 and Daily Timep40) while watching a crucial match. As if Nigeria must participate in this suicidal retreat, a young man in Nassarawa state was said to have collapsed and died on the spot when the Nigerian team lost in one of the encounters.
These adventures bring to the fore the need to distinguish between faith and fanaticism. While faith can be interpreted as to have complete confidence and trust on something, occasionally associated with strong religious belief, fanaticism is to be too extreme and enthusiastic on issues. Faith and fanaticism can be laudatory as well as derogatory.
The football game as one of the popular pastimes with its World Cup Matches, remains the most interesting sport that excites passion, amusement and relaxation. Therefore, neither should spiritual battle employed or the use of religious platforms to support it. Afterall the matches are not intended to please and amuse the Almighty God as the game is neither between the believers and infidels nor between the powerful countries and weaker nations. It is about fun . . . real fun and excitement.
The good lesson to be learned from the fall of the mighty football countries like Italy, Argentina, England, Portugal and others is that no nation should underrate others as minors or weaklings. Today some countries see themselves as unbeatable and manipulate the international bodies to dance to their tune against the wish of others. The dictatorial countries have systematically brainwashed the public through the dominant and advanced means of communication as they see themselves as the Alpha and Omega who can do whatever they like and get away with it.
While nobody is praying for a global warfare, it would surprise many that, if it breaks, God forbids, the substantive powerful nations that may emerge, would be those silent countries who hardly make noise but surreptitiously advance and develop in various human endeavors. They may likely be those who have senses of responsibility by supporting peaceful resolutions, abiding to the global conventions and signing treaties for the benefit of mankind.
The FIFA World Cup also exposes the self-styled bookmakers as fictitious analysts who, like fake soothsayers only interpret their hallucinations as truly inspirational to satisfy their inner instinct and demoralize the prowess of upcoming teams from reaching the top. Probably they use their tools in trade to give undue publicity to their clients as marketing strategies since during the world cup gambling takes an unprecedented dimension in the global business.
Interestingly the game has seen to the exhibition of patriotism and nationalism by all Nigerians devoid of ethnic bigotry and religious chauvinism. It serves as a unifying force with everyone looking at the players, not as belonging to any section, but as representatives of our great nation. In fact that national attachment, was extended when all Africans rested their hope and aspirations towards the success of the Senegalese team whose valor, as an emerging team, was impressive before the elimination.
On the other hand, while appreciating the collective enthusiasm for the success of the Super Eagle, most Nigerian commentators are extremely fanatical after every failure. Their unnecessary calls for the replacement of the coaches, have robbed the nation of better outings. Some of the highly-rated coaches were booted out of the team, just for slight disappointment. But the same rejected trainers were in the world cup nurturing unknown teams to limelight . . . in fact performing better than our so-called professional team.
If coaches could be replaced during tournaments, probably Nigeria would have witnessed a dozen coaches substituted during the last World Cup because of our impatience and agitations. It is high time we have faith in the ability of our players and coaches to succeed and encourage them even after failure that they can do better. It is easy to comment and criticize, but is another thing to perform to expectation.World Cup 2002 has come and gone, we must learn that there comes a time in the life of a nation, when we have no other choice but to remain faithfully united, no matter our background, cultural and religious inclinations and unitedly curb extremism and fanaticism in our social life in order to achieve greatness and be a shining example to others. That zeal and devotion exhibited for the success of Nigeria should not be limited to offshore encounters. We should promote the word of love and create better understanding amongst ourselves locally and national. That time, is now when we shared the same affection and pain from the World Cup Match.