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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)
  1. Spencer Collins

    Vanity Fair-June 2010
    It's football, O.K.? Football. Not soccer. It's never been soccer. Nobody but midwestern cougars call it soccer. soccer is a late-19th-century English-university slang word that's an abbreviation of 'association,' as in 'association football,' to distinguish it from 'Rugby football.'"...."It also universally, and without contradiction or cultural snobbery, answers to the appellation 'the Beautiful Game.' The football World Cup, is by a country mile, a long hop, an eagle, a furlong, and the whole nine yards, the greatest sporting event in the world, ever. It's been estimated that more than 715 million people watched the cup final in 2006. By the way, that's almost 10 times the number that watched the Super Bowl that year."

    June 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  2. João Nuno

    I'm from Portugal, in Europe, soccer here is called "futebol" and your "football" is called "futebol americano" and here there are three major religions Sporting Clube de Portugal, S.L. Benfica and F.C. Porto, the ways to practice that religion can be watch Sport TV every weekends, go to the stadium, or having soccer conversations in cafes, allways with a good beer and some peanuts.
    I can't wait for the World Cup, and this is Portugal year!
    Allez Sporting Allez!

    June 10, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  3. anna

    americans always try 2 feel different dats y dey must change football 2 soccer in their country.well unfortunately americans can't rule in football n get to miss out as d rest of d world watches d greatest game on earth,evn as their team plays in d event. Well i'm caught up i world cup fever n gonna hav a fab time 4 d next month,praying n cheerin on.yeah!!!!

    June 10, 2010 at 5:09 am |
  4. No Soccer

    Soccer is very similar to church, but I can't decide which is more boring.

    June 9, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  5. Gary

    love watching my son play soccer and enjoy practicing with him.....Soccer on T.V. is terribly boring and painful to watch. Boxing Basket ball and of course real football ball both college and pro are exciting sports to watch..

    June 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • Knut

      Football is exciting inbetween the 20 second brakes they insist on having every 8 seconds.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  6. Jeff B

    Football (soccer) is the term the world uses for the sport that is played with ... the feet. It is what American Gridiron Football is based from, please know your history before you say ignorant things.

    Half of the world is watching the World Cup and it IS growing exponentially in the USA! GO USA beat England and BP on Saturday!!!

    June 9, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  7. armah

    Football is really a religion. I hope to make the pilgrimage in Brasil 2014 as I couldn't make it this year.
    Barely 2 days to 2010 worldcup? I am already baptized.

    June 9, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  8. BassOMatic

    I enjoy watching my 10-year-old daughter play soccer, but World Cup futbol with its 1-0 games makes watching golf seem exciting. What are we? 6 weeks out from NFL training camp opening? Man, I can't wait...

    June 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • Knut

      yes its much more fun to watch people play for 6 seconds and then take a 20 second brake and then play for five again and then another 20 second brake, etc etc...

      June 10, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  9. Chet Carson

    The author of this article must be this guy:

    Nation's Soccer Fan Becoming Insufferable
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/nations-soccer-fan-becoming-insufferable,17553/

    June 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  10. Bob Harrison

    I thought this article was going to be about football, but it's about soccer.

    June 9, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • Knut

      If you want american football go and look for an article that says american football. There is only one football.
      American football hardly even use theirt foot, why dont youi guys just call it handball which is a much better fit and stop
      trying to steal the name of the one world sport. If you must steal a name you should at least have chosen a less known sport.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  11. huffhuff

    How does God decide which team to support? LOL.

    June 9, 2010 at 8:18 am |
    • Gary

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

      June 9, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  12. RWESTUPID

    This is America. Football is played by NFL players. If you want to see football as a religion, show up at any NFL stadium on gameday. Soccer is called soccer in this country.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:49 am |
    • Bob Harrison

      I knew this was actually about soccer as soon as I saw the picture of the skinny white guy with a fauxhawk.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  13. Nitrogen

    Sports and religion go hand in hand. They are opium to the masses. They incite hatred toward opposing teams. They are used to control people. They are generally useless. Except football, at least the people playing get exercise.

    June 9, 2010 at 12:43 am |
  14. Vinlander

    Football and religion? - "Jesus Saves, and Rooney scores on the rebound."

    June 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  15. Gary

    Football is real. played on a physical field. Fair rules and regulations. Its exciting and entertaining. Football requires athletism ,planning and intelligence.....Football is nothing like religion...

    June 8, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  16. CubanMom

    In the U.S. the football IS a religion, and I am not talking about soccer! The games are usually played on Sundays, and people gather to watch.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:58 am |
    • Chupallama

      Here in Texas, we have all three holy days (from the Abrahamic traditions) covered: Friday nights for high school, Saturdays for college, and Sundays for the Cowboys!

      June 8, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Rick

      *sighs* There's a price to pay for being a xenophobe.

      June 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  17. Mark

    Dave, Dave, dave – what country did you write this article in? I believe in the US we refer to the sport as "soccer". You know very well what football is in this country. When you write articles for "the rest of the world" you can call the sport whatever you want, but please don't be a doofus when writing for an American audience.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
    • dodger

      Mark, it is you who are the doofus. This article clearly wasn't written for JUST an American audience. Obviously, people from all over the world watch CNN and read CNN on the internet. Just because this article may have been written in the United States, doesn't mean it should be directed for an American audience.

      June 5, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
    • CubanMom

      Mark...........Mark...... Mark....... there are 6 BILLION people on the planet. The U.S. has a mere 300 million! IT IS FOOTBALL for the World, we are the ones who are backwards!

      June 8, 2010 at 8:59 am |
    • Scott

      I am American. I live in the United States of America. Football to me is played with the feet. Always has been. Always will be.

      June 8, 2010 at 10:26 am |
    • Carl

      "Scott
      I am American. I live in the United States of America. Football to me is played with the feet. Always has been. Always will be."
      -–
      Punter, or Kicker? ;-P

      June 8, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Scott

      Punter, or Kicker? ;-P

      Ha ha!!

      More of an attacking central midfielder role...

      June 8, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • al

      mark, you seem to disregard the fact that the united states is a melting pot and that we are a combination of "the rest of the world"

      June 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Henry

      Mark: You are the biggest moron I have ever heard of.....

      June 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  18. John

    Sports? Bollocks. It's mainly just a bunch of mercenary athletes playing for whoever will pay them the most. No more to it than that.

    June 4, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
    • Kevin

      Except that in the World Cup, most players receive little to no payment for playing. They do it for love of the sport and country.

      June 11, 2010 at 4:13 am |
  19. jeff

    It seems we all have our "Christards".

    June 4, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  20. Rob

    At least the "religion of football" is based in reality. Now that's something I can believe in. Bring on the U.K.. Go Yanks!

    June 4, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Its England, not UK. The teams plays as individual countries in tournaments.
      As a English guy in the US I am sure there will be some banter that day but I cannot wait for it to start.

      June 4, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • Carl

      Huh, I thought this article would be about football. It's all about soccer.

      what a disappointment.

      93 days to the NFL season opener!

      June 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • amina

      PEOPLE ALWAYES HATE ON THINKS THAT THEY WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND OR TRY TO UNDERSTAND FOOTBALL HAS ALWAYES BEEN THE WORLD GAME LETS SEE IF AMERICAN FOOTBALL CAN BEAT THAT

      June 8, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • Real Football

      I’m disappointed too, I thought this was about real football, not soccer. Who cares about soccer, not me.

      June 11, 2010 at 9:12 am |
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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.