Sport is a force for good and has the power to unite people

On Sunday, it was so good to see that we don’t need a pandemic to make us sit together and forget our differences

By Shilpa Bhasin Mehra

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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Published: Mon 19 Dec 2022, 9:11 PM

Words like superb, incredible, awesome and phenomenal sound ordinary at times. Adjectives to describe the thrilling Fifa World Cup final also seem inadequate. Goose bumps, heart skipping many beats...I can go on, and that too when I don’t watch football or know much about it. But on Sunday, there was a reason for the heightened excitement: the one and only Lionel Messi.

The power of football is simply fascinating. In a world torn apart by prejudices, sanctions and strife, to see a sport and personality uniting us to cheer for one team, or rather one person, is refreshing. I remember in 2011, when India played the ICC World Cup final against Sri Lanka, everyone wanted India to win, because it was Sachin Tendulkar’s last World Cup. One cannot compare the popularity of football with cricket, and everyone was rooting for Messi to win the World Cup as it was his last tournament. It reminded me of 2011.

Two three years ago, the world united against Covid. We united because we had to win the war in order to survive. On Sunday, it was so good to see that we don’t need a pandemic to make us sit together and forget our differences. Sport has that effect on people. We as spectators cheer, cry, and go through the whole range of emotions and exclamations. People praying for their team or players shows the innate connection they feel. They are not related to the players, they don’t even know them, but are willing to pray or fight for them. The power of it all is truly inspiring.

I thought my last article for this year would be on the year gone by, with some introspection and something to be grateful for. But after watching the final, all other thoughts and emotions went out of the window. The only word on the lips was: wow, wow and wow''.

Sport’s role in reducing conflict can be traced back to the Olympic Games. In a divided world, sport is a unique and important connective tissue that binds people together. As we think about the platforms that unite us as people regardless of background or beliefs, it is hard to think of many as powerful as the stadiums we fill to cheer for our favourite teams and players.

At the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, we again witnessed the power of sport, when athletes from North and South Korea marched together. The world is a fractured place. There’s conflict between countries all over the globe, and also conflict within countries as we become siloed with others who only share our values and beliefs. Yet, through history, people who otherwise have little in common have come together on neighbouring pitches and in packed stadiums, as fans and as players, and put those differences aside for the sake of their teams. By playing together these people were unwittingly learning the universal values of respect, tolerance and fair play.

No other social activity brings people together in such great numbers, and with so much passion and enjoyment. Regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, sport is enjoyed by all; its reach is unrivalled. More importantly though, sport promotes universal values that transcend language and culture. It is a universal language which brings people together, irrespective of their origins, background, religious beliefs or economic standing.

Nelson Mandela said in 2000: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where there was only despair.”

Messi, thank you for making us all cheer together and rejoice in your victory. Tomorrow we can settle our scores.

- Shilpa Bhasin Mehra is an independent legal consultant based in Dubai

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