It is called the FIFA World Cup, the single biggest sporting event in the world. It happens once every four years. For the first time in its century-long history, a middle eastern country, Qatar, is hosting the historic four-week fiesta.
Billions around the world will tune in to watch 22 players in each game. They will run and move skilfully to control one ball with the ultimate aim of kicking it into an opponent’s net on either side of the pitch.
The enormous passion generated by football is mind-boggling, when compared to just how truly simple the game is. The main principle of the game is that it can be played with any part of your body, except the hands and arms. Only the goalkeeper can use his hands and arms, but even then, not under every circumstance.
The rule is that simple, but also, that deceptive.
See, No Hands!
The hand and arms are the main tools of manipulation in human experience. It is hard to see any accomplishment or device that does not involve the human hand. That is why the requirement to exclude the hand in the game of football, or soccer, is onerous, and makes all the difference.
Other games called “football” involve the use of hands in playing. These include American Football and the Australian Rules Football. Going by that narrow standard of “hands only,” football, administered by FIFA may be the only game in the world that truly deserves the name, “football.”
Just as well that it is often called and distinguished as “soccer.” The passion and enthusiasm for it permeates multiple facets of life.
Football in Absolute Radio
I can look back and see that football as a sport was one of the major themes of Absolute Radio, the book I wrote and released in September 2022. Five of the 44 chapters included the descriptions of the extreme passion for football and its intricacies.
For example, in chapter 31, Kweku Ackaah-Boafo, who is now a Judge at the High Courts of Ghana is quoted as follows:
“I was walking home from the office when I heard a lively football commentary on radio. It attracted me because I was like ‘who is this person giving the commentary,’ because it was so good. The commentator happened to be Kojo Frempong. His language was apt, it was precise, and the fluency with which this young man was speaking was so impressive.”
Kweku Ackaah-Boafo and Kojo Frempong’s experience captured in the book is from events in early 1998, during the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Burkina Faso.
About a quarter of a century later, Ackaah-Boafo and Kojo Frempong, are still close friends brought together by football. Millions of football lovers do feel a common bond by virtue of their love of the game.
When Football Unites
Although a relatively fleeting experience, many believe that the greatest period of unity in most nations is when citizens get together to root for their national teams at a World Cup. That is apart from the pure sense of joy and excitement shared by those millions of people to whom football is as strong and permanent as a national religion.
The beautiful game makes its global appearance in a notable part of the world for the first time. The world will converge in Qatar from Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and North America.
There will be a notable absence of many countries that did not make it, especially Italy, a European football powerhouse. Canada, a nation crazy with playing Hockey on ice will attempt to make an impact on grass. England, the home of football, will once again try to assert their historic relevance. Brazil remains the top nation favoured to win the World Cup for a record 6th time.
Playing for Records
Lionel Messi of Argentina will play his heart out to see if he could be declared the greatest player of all time. He know he can do that only by helping his team to win. That is the only way he will replicate the achievement of the late Argentine hero, Diego Maradona.
Another legendary player, Cristiano Ronaldo will join the Portuguese team in his last appearance in a World Cup. After expressing disenchantment with his coach at Manchester United in a major interview, there is more to see than just his skills as a player.
These, along with hundreds of other points of statistical interest and intrigue are in store in Qatar.
The allure of football is so global and so irresistibly intense.
Endless Controversies, but the Show Goes On
The world game however is governed by an administrative body that is never far from controversy.
A day before the festival kicked off, FIFA president Gianni Infantino took to the stage in a monologue to accuse Western nations of “hypocrisy” in its reporting about Qatar’s human rights record.
Despite the clash of cultures in a middle eastern nation and the extreme Qatari weather, the genuine game of football will reign once more. Qatar is ready and there is no doubt that the tournament will produce a series of big stories in November and December 2022.
When it is all over in a few weeks, the FIFA 2022 World Cup tournament will leave another layer of legacy for the history books to record.
PS: For some history and context of the truly powerful governing body for Soccer, watch the Netflix Documentary, FIFA Uncovered. It details how politics and commerce came into football and turned it into a global product tinged with corruption that took a generation to unravel.