June 4th, 2010
08:28 AM ET

The religion of football

CNN's Senior National Editor Dave Schechter has been gearing up for the World Cup, which kicks off June 11. He filed this report:

My wife has been known to say – sometimes in jest, sometimes ruefully – that there are two religions in our house; one associated with synagogue, the other with soccer.

Ours’ is hardly the only household around the globe where organized religion and organized football occasionally vie for primacy. [I will use the term “football” because that’s what the sport is called around the world. The game is, after all, played with feet.]

You can be an agnostic or an atheist when it comes to religion but it’s much more difficult when we’re talking about the World Cup. Even if the game does not interest you, you will not be able to escape the passion. You will encounter people in your day life – at work, shopping, out for a meal – who are engrossed in this sporting spectacle.

The greatest event in sports is about to captivate an audience numbered in the billions with displays of passion rivaling the most fervent among the religious faithful.

Prayers will be offered; some silently, some aloud with great fervor.

Curses will be uttered; directed at players, full teams and even entire nations.

Deities will be implored.

Sacrifices will be pledged, some even offered.

Hymns will be sung, some with lyrics a touch off-color.

Vestments will be worn, colors that designate allegiance to a particular national team, some adorned with the names of individual players.

For those who believe there is greater power in worshipping together evidence will be found in the masses who will pack football-friendly watering holes, standing shoulder-to-shoulder for hours at a time, rather than enjoying the comforts of their own living rooms.

As in many faiths there is a place considered the grail, a shrine that must be visited at least once in a lifetime. For the football worshipper that site moves every four years; this year South Africa.

I made that pilgrimage four years ago, taking my then 13-year-old son to Germany (beware the Bar Mitzvah presents you promise). It did not matter whether your first language was English. If you spoke “footie” you could converse with fans from any nations. My son found his way into pick-up games on a public plaza with adults and kids from Germany and the Czech Republic and conversations in stadiums with Italians and Spaniards.

Just as religion often divides or unites people, football can do the same.

Game on.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Culture & Science • Houses of worship • Sports

soundoff (57 Responses)
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    March 4, 2011 at 5:57 am |
  3. João Nuno (Lisbon, Portugal)

    Sorry, John, but Portugal is 3rd World?We're not Sweden or Denmark, but if you're calling Portugal 3rd world, Africa is like 10th World. Portugal has a much better public education and healthcare than USA.
    "Portugal is a developed country[6] and it has the world's 19th-highest quality-of-life, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. It is the 14th-most peaceful and the 13th-most globalized country in the world. It is a member of the European Union (joined the then EEC in 1986, leaving the EFTA where it was a founding member in 1960) and the United Nations; as well as a founding member of the Latin Union, the Organization of Ibero-American States, OECD, NATO, Community of Portuguese Language Countries, the European Union's Eurozone, and also a Schengen state." -Wikipedia

    June 12, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  4. João Nuno (Lisbon, Portugal)

    You americans talk about football (soccer) like if it was an Latin America and 3rd World thing, I don't know If you know, but is the most popular sport here in the rich and much more intelligent and intellectual Europe.

    June 11, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • John Henderson

      No, we're just including Portugal in the "3rd World".

      June 11, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
  5. jerry

    yeah for one can we stop with calling it football specially when its on cnn america if your talkin bout the browns or the cowboys ok fine were in america when i go to the uk then ill call it football but in america football is always the real football lol im sorry nothin against the sport i like watchin team usa play but thats it again i aint dissing it but damn

    June 11, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  6. Tony

    Why can't we all get along people, American footbal is a great game and so is "football" in the soccer sense. As far as the name, we Americans stole it and made it our own, probably because handball sounds like a feminine game and most definitely because we like to be unique. Enjoy the sporting spectacle that is the World Cup, the Superbowl could never compete on a global scale, that is just reality.....

    June 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  7. Sebastian

    @ Gary

    "Soccer is televised on Telemundo and Galavision with a few wetbacks watching it."

    Who would have thought... A bigoted comment from an obviously uneducated person. I bet you're one of the "Birthers" too, and probably a member of the "Teabaggers Party" as well.

    It always amazes me that the only way peole like you have to express yourself is by belittleling others. Remarks like the one you made only prove one thing.... Your ignorance.

    I say go back to the rock you live under and stay there.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • Gary

      Sebo, Yes proud member of tea party getting rid of the socialist lifer congress people. Member of the peoples party. Obama is a loser commie and might not get elected his 2nd term due to his politics not the fact that he was born out of U.S.A. I will sit with my Colomibian American father n law my Colombian wife and my bilingual children and watch some of the World cup. Only cause we will eat some soncocho and drink cerveza.

      June 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
    • Kieran

      Gary, you probably don't even know the true definition of communism and socialism. And no, it does not mean having an evil dictatorship.

      June 13, 2010 at 2:54 am |
  8. abcdef12345

    Women have their soap operas and men have their sports. I think soap operas are much more entertaining than watching team sports, and I hate soap operas.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  9. Saganhill

    It's just a game, who cares. Enjoy it as you wish. Personally I think they are overpaid players and if you have seen one game, you have seen them all. "Wait, did that guy score in some miraclulous way? Oh yeah, he did the same last year"

    June 11, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  10. Dan K

    American football needs to change it's name to Throwball or Runball because the only time the game involves feet is on kick-offs, punts, extra point attempts and field goal attempts. The vast majority of the game involves running or throwing the ball.

    June 11, 2010 at 8:17 am |
    • Gary

      Football comes the measurement on the gridiron. 3 feet is one yard. Football sounds better than Yardball. Football is very exciting High school,College and N.F.L. draw hugh crowds and generate billions of dollars.. Soccer is televised on Telemundo and Galavision with a few wetbacks watching it.

      June 11, 2010 at 9:53 am |
    • No Soccer

      This is like saying that the only time basketball involves a basket is when it drops through the hoop (not even really a basket) and therefore should be called Bounceball. Soccer, football, whatever, a sport is called what it's called. We know what a European means when they say football and we know what an American means when they say football. Live and let live. Personally, I'm a baseball fan and I don't care for either type of football! 🙂

      June 11, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  11. Kon M

    Everyone in the world calls it football. Even us Australians have changed the way we called it. learn to respect the world game.

    I agree with Knut, American Football is boring. The game takes 4 hours to complete. I would rather watch Gary Kasparov play chess!!

    June 10, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  12. SHRIKE

    soccer is gay

    June 10, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  13. Knut

    Gary: "God is a Texas Longhorn supporter....sky is burnt orange on a sunny afternoon....."

    Thats fine Gary, you can have as many makebelife supporters as you like 🙂

    June 10, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.