• Friday, December 19, 2014

Freedom in the air

SHIFTING IMAGES

An “offside” perspective

Milia Ali

It's finally over: the sleepless nights of excitement for millions in Asia and the beer binging, merry afternoons and evenings for spectators in Europe, Africa and the Americas. It could be described as the simple pleasure of watching a ball being maneuvered by twenty-two men in a hundred metre long field. Or, the emotions associated with whether or not the ball was kicked inside a seven-meter wide goal post!
Yes, the World Cup Football 2014 has ended with a befitting1-0 victory for the “well designed German team machine, with all the parts working together in harmony.” Germany defeated no less an opponent than Argentina, a country that is credited for developing soccer into an art form, thanks to icons like Maradona!
While the tournament has left us with lingering sweet memories, there were some unsavoury moments. For example, we may never know if it was momentary frustration or a psychological malaise that prompted Uruguay's Suarez to bite an opponent in the full glare of millions of TV viewers. The incident has also brought to focus the issue of whether or not a celebrated athlete should be judged solely on talent and ability or if he has a moral responsibility to act as a role model.
As for Brazil conceding seven-goals to Germany, this will remain the most dissected football story in history. The humiliating defeat could be attributed to Brazil's star striker Neymar's spinal injury. But the question is: should the absence of a single member from the team totally demolish the morale of the entire pack?
There were also instances when one was torn between two contrasting emotions: elation for a team's victory and empathy for the losing side. Messi's 92nd minute goal against Iran was a brilliant display of footballing skills. It was a feat worth celebrating, but there was also an unsettling feeling that Iran deserved the 0-0 tie after it gave a valiant fight to the superior Argentinian team. Besides, one felt that the players of a country that is often in the media's focus for all the wrong reasons could have used that single moment of glory!
For many of us, watching the tournament was as good as actively playing the games… a truly vicarious pleasure. I had the unique experience of viewing the first part of the Cup in the United Sates, and the semis and final in Bangladesh. In the US my husband and I ventilated the ebb and flow of emotions in an almost clinical manner, enjoying the post-game analysis, which was a veritable tutorial on football by the “best” TV sports commentators!
In Dhaka, watching the event was a different “ball game” since it turned into a “group experience.” The chemistry was at a high emotional level with everyone rowdily “kicking” different opinions in different directions. All this happened in an adda atmosphere while sipping cups of tea and consuming loads of finger food until sehri!
The World Cup acted as a unifying force creating a sense of camaraderie amongst diverse groups and people -- something that no other sport has been able to generate. Even the US seems to have tuned into the universal spirit of the game, as enthusiastic crowds thronged bars, restaurants and other public spaces to watch “soccer.” In fact, Americans are finally beginning to reflect on the flawed logic of calling their national sport (where the ball is passed with the hands with a fair degree of scuffling) “football”!
In Bangladesh the event was much more than a sport. It was a national passion with Brazilian and Argentinian flags proudly proclaiming people's preferences. Yet, there was no hint of acrimony and loyalties crossed fossilised political lines. Even my 5-year-old grandson donned his blue and white jersey and proudly waved Argentina's flag, thus transcending the boundaries of his familiar world. Consequently, I was careful not to express my preference for any other team lest I hurt the sentiments of someone I love dearly!  
The World Cup brought a much-needed diversion in a “world” of turmoil and upheaval, marked by the alarming ascendancy of the ISIS in Iraq and the brutal Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians. In the 60 days of the Cup's life, we laughed and cried over a ball being kicked inside the goal without feeling malice or animosity toward anyone. The most profound lesson I learnt was from my hairdresser in the US. She was styling my hair as I sat with my back to the TV screen while the France–Germany game was being aired. Suddenly she let out a cry, “Goal, goal.” When I asked which team had scored, she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and said, “I don't know and don't care. I am only spreading happiness!”
Perhaps that encapsulates the true spirit of the World Cup for many of us fans!


The writer is a renowned exponent of Rabindra Sangeet and a former employee of World Bank. E-mail: shiftingimages@gmail.com

Published: 12:00 am Sunday, July 20, 2014

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