Every four years a strange disease sweeps across the globe. People from different races, cultures and tribes, start showing similar symptoms. Strangers start talking and best friends become enemies. Employees trudge into workplaces like zombies. There is no known cure for this malady. It does not differentiate between doctors, scientists, politicians, beggars or billionaires. Luckily the infliction lasts for a month. It dissipates the way it appeared, slowly. For days after the fever had abated some of us walk around with a silly grin on our face while others wander around with drooping shoulders and talk to themselves. The name of this disease is ‘ Football Mania’ and in case you are still wondering, it comes along with the football world cup held once every four years.
I was struck by this illness way back in the eighties. An article in the Readers Digest mentioned about a man named Paolo Rossi. He was a football player from Italy. The article described his skills on the field in detail. We had a black and white TV then and I decided to watch and validate this article for myself.
My father was an army officer. Unlike most men his age or in his profession he did not like to watch sports on TV. He also did not like to watch the news, soap operas or movies. Now he must be in his eighties and we are still not sure what exactly are his areas of interest. Sorry I digressed. Returning back to 1982 it was not exactly easy to watch TV in a house, knowing that somewhere in the background my father lurked. Yet somehow I managed it and ended up watching almost all the matches. The 1982 World Cup was the first world cup I ever saw and unknowingly I was infected by ‘Football Mania’.
Over the past four decades I have watched most of the matches of the World Cups. The only times i missed them was when I was traveling or posted in remote corners of the country – in places where there was no electricity or TV. I saw Germany,Brazil,Italy, France, Spain all become champions. Between them they covered most of the continents. Coming from a nation of one billion plus – India, it hurt. We are a cricket nation. We think breathe and dream cricket. We do not stand anywhere when it comes to Football. Even tiny Nepal defeats us! Thank God for Bhutan we somehow manage to get a few points but that is about it when we talk about India’s Football talent. That brings me to another feature of these world cups. Every four years the citizens of various countries temporarily ‘adopt’ the nationality of countries playing in the World cup! That is if there is a match between Argentina and Germany and I do not like the Germans, for the ninety minutes plus extra time if any, I become an Argentina supporter. I boo every time the German’s get possession of the ball and cheer every time they are shown a yellow card! After the final whistle is blown everything returns to normal and I am back to being an Indian busy applying for a German visa! Now isn’t that the perfect example of international brotherhood? To highlight this point further let me quote an incident which happened two days back. When South Korea defeated Germany and indirectly helped Mexico enter the next round, we witnessed something similar. People in Mexico went up to the South Korean embassy and thanked the Ambassador and even got him to take a few sips from a bottle of Tequila!
To those not interested in sports such behavior may look weird but then isn’t it a noble and better way to solve our issues and differences? ‘Fighting’ or rather competing on a sports ground rather then going to war and destroying each others on battle fields?