The 2018 FIFA World Cup offers a perfect distraction during a time of mass scepticism
International football delivers a sense of euphoria every time it comes around. The FIFA World Cup, the major quadrennial international football tournament currently underway in Russia, is a special event that intrudes on life no matter where one is or how big a football fan they usually are. The event has a special power to put things into perspective whether your home nation is competing or not. In fact, if you’re anything like me you can trace a rough outline of your life depending on where you were and what you were doing during each World Cup. There are not many international events that do that, sport or otherwise.
I don't need to go into much detail, but by all accounts the world around us is pretty messed up right now. Namely, children were being separated from their parents and put into holding cells at the American border due to orders from President Trump’s administration. It’s a tragedy occurring in the modern, developed world; a world we like to think is much more advanced and progressive than it really is. Though this is not the first time the world has been messed up, nor will it be the last, many young people are feeling more hopeless and isolated than ever.
For the hopeless, the hopeful, and all those in between, I offer the 2018 Fifa World Cup: The perfect World Cup at the perfect time. If you haven’t been tuning in you are missing out on a truly entertaining tournament full of surprises and unforgettable moments. We are into the round of 16 we have already witnessed countless remarkable moments including upsets like Mexico defeating Germany and host nation Russia defeating Spain, Belgium becoming the first team to come back from a two-goal deficit and win since West Germany did it in 1970, a plethora of nasty free kick finishes, breakout performances like French 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé scoring two goals against Argentina, and Ronaldo scoring a hat-trick in his opening match thereby continuing LeBron’s streak of greatness to prove that the two 33-year-olds are in fact the same alien sent to utterly embarrass us earthlings.
For most of us, the World Cup is a month-long distraction offered once every four years where we get to have some fun and take our mind off things. Some people would argue that a distraction is the exact opposite of what we need right now; that we need to be active in denouncing evil and distractions may make us too lazy to do that. But sometimes in life you need a distraction in order to remain sane and put your best foot forward. Turn on any news outlet and you’ll be flooded with information about political turmoil, human rights violations, murder, sexual assault, Trump, and little children being separated from their parents. How long can you take all that in and move yourself to take action without needing a break from it all? Some people can go much longer than others, and they should be admired, but most people find a way to distract themselves one way or another. I’ve used sports my entire life as the favoured distraction to keep me sane. You can too with the FIFA World Cup.
It’s surprisingly easy to embrace the World Cup once you allow yourself to. You don’t even need to pick one team to support. Watch any game with fans of that nation, which is admittedly much easier to do if you live in a big, diverse city like Toronto, and the emotions of the people around you and the beauty of the game will almost always win you over. As Shea Serrano writes, "It’s the lowest stakes of fandom, I suspect. During the highest stakes of sport, for sure."
Once you understand more individual storylines such as the nations like Panama and Iceland making their World Cup debuts, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo likely playing in their final World Cup, or players like Neymar Jr. carrying the weight of an entire nation on their shoulders, you gain an even better understanding of how important this tournament is; How much bigger than sport it is.
We often forget this in North America, but soccer is far and away the most popular sport in the world. It’s not even close. Go to any country, developed or not, and you will see people of all ages playing soccer on some surface with some round object. It’s not an exaggeration to say that soccer is not a sport for many people, it’s a lifestyle. And the World Cup is the culmination of that lifestyle. It’s rareness makes it especially extraordinary.
Whether you’re young or old, black or white, American or not, odds are something, somewhere is stressing you out right now. I don't mean to come off as a therapist, but if that’s the case, feel free to embrace the World Cup and allow it to be your distraction. With two weeks to go it’s not too late to tune into the perfect World Cup at the perfect time. Considering the complications surrounding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, this may be the last time you can say that for a while. Perhaps until 2026 when North America is the host.