Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Soccer, Intolerance, Beauty, Brutality, Dreams

A comment left by a regular reader, Kyle, of the Helltown Beer Blog got me thinking. Kyle's comment on my post The Middle East and Safety at the 2022 World Cup pointed out the difficulty inherent in writing about soccer when the sport so intimately wraps itself around and weaves itself through the social, political and cultural aspects of our often agonizing world.

As if to prove the tapestry of soccer and life are ever intertwined, earlier this season I wrote about The Columbus Crew's Justin Meram, Do Over! And then, Presto!, Justin was offered the chance to play for his father's country of birth, Iraq, at the end of the Crew's 2014 season.

This triumvirate of stories, Qatar 2022, Justin Meram and his breakout season and Justin Meram being called up to the Iraq National Team, blend together with almost every possible color and texture of the human existence.

A young man, Justin Meram, who plays the sport of soccer and is a United States citizen is offered the chance to play for the national team of a country, Iraq, which is torn apart by war, both cultural and physical. The United States is intimately involved in the war in Iraq.

Iraq's region of the world, the Middle East, is a region in turmoil. The struggle between those who seek tolerance and freedom, and those who wish to continue a long tradition of intolerance and repression rages throughout the Middle East.

Qatar is part of the Middle East, a very small part in terms of land mass and population, but a very large part in terms of wealth. And yet, despite this wealth, the rulers of Qatar cling to the long tradition of intolerance and repression.

I wonder, what was Jutin's reaction to the call-up? And what was the discussion like between father and son when Justin Meram was offered the chance to play for his father's nation of birth? For a glimpse of what may have transpired read this story from and Kelly Haapala. While there is no mention of Meram's interaction with his father, Justin's own excitement tells you a lot about what playing for Iraq means to him.

Justin's story is an example of the positive product that can emerge from the collision between soccer and life. But there are factions: violent, intolerant and influential factions throughout the Middle East which make Justin's story both inspiring and a cautionary tale.

It is the very culture in much of the Middle East which allows intolerance and systematic rape, murder and torture to continue on such a horrific scale. Qatar is not an outlier to this vicious intolerance. And yet, Qatar has been awarded the beautiful game's most beloved competition.

I hope Justin Meram can continue his dream of playing soccer for his father's home country. I also hope that World Cup 2022 is taken from Qatar. Our beautiful game's greatest and most visible moment should not have the remotest chance of being used to glorify, justify, and legitimize a culture which practices such hate and brutality.

The most difficult aspect of taking in and processing Qatar, the World Cup and Justin Meram's dream is the fact that this triumvirate are not mutually exclusive of each other. Dreams and beauty exist even in the darkest of moments.   

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