Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The World Cup... The Bright World War

The World Cup is a sporty and stubborn human dream. In 1930, in Uruguay, this international event was born and drove the residents of the planet into a kind of addiction. Every four years, the ninety-year-old celebration rejuvenates and doubles its sparkle. It resisted the hurricanes that swept the world and defended its right to survive.

Only the Second World War forced it to write off two cycles of its life in 1942 and 1946, but it emerged again in 1950 from Brazil to announce that it was here to stay.

The world turned many pages. Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, de Gaulle, Mao, and Kim Il-sung have gone, while football generals insist on giving a world thirsty for innocent excitement, rivalry and joy, a beautiful rendezvous.

The dream of the World Cup did not surrender in the face of the dark seasons, whether violent wars or major economic crises.

People loved this civilized sport that is free of the brutality of wrestling, the cruelty of boxing, and the necessity of putting the opponent to the ground. A toothless duel that requires solid wills and long preparation, and gives way to showing decency, endurance, innovation and ingenuity.

The technology and media revolution came to provide football masters with what was previously missing for the generals of the conflicting armies, which are screens that directly accompany the players and spy on the features of their faces and their moments of pride and defeat. The standings of the generals of football stadiums exceeded those of warlords, especially when huge commercial institutions relied on the brilliance of players to promote their products. The media provided the masters of stadiums with an unprecedented luster and consolidated their presence in history and people’s memory. Thus, Pele became more famous than Zhukov, the Stalingrad general, and Maradona was much more celebrated than Rommel, the “Desert Fox.”

Football stars ascended to the throne of global attention. Sober political newspapers found themselves forced to monitor their goals, maneuvers, and quarrels with coaches, clubs, and amazing transfer deals, which sometimes reach astronomical amounts that are enough to rebuild a city.

The newspapers were also forced to cover their wars and their love stories, and their anecdotes became the most read undisputedly.

In fact, they have turned into a source of inspiration and influence, especially when their posters filled the teenagers’ bedrooms and phone screens. The world has not given its greatest authors an importance equal to that of the stadiums’ magicians. The number of people who know Maradona exceeds by far those who know Gabriel García Márquez, who rose to the throne of Latin America for literature and won the Nobel Prize. The number of those who know the French player Mbappé today is certainly greater than those who know Victor Hugo or Albert Camus.

The stadium magicians infiltrated homes, schools, and universities. They stole the hearts of generations and taught them the addiction to these golden wars. They gave lessons of patience, commitment, and waited for the celebration time. This extended wedding has not been affected by criticism that football matches are a kind of alternative war that sometimes provides an opportunity to awaken strong, ethnic or racial sensitivities, and leads to the exposure of painful histories. The populist media does not hesitate to evoke vocabulary from the bloody history of confrontations if England, for example, played against France. But all the criticism leveled at the game did not diminish its attractiveness and brilliance.

The Qatar World Cup provided the world’s population with a much-needed break. Since the last round, the world has fallen into a sea of depression. A monster named Covid-19 attacked the global village. It invaded continents, cities and homes, and caused millions of funerals, exhausted economies, and tried to undermine scientific and medical progress.

As soon as the world started to catch its breath, Vladimir Putin decided that the hour of revenge for a martyr named the Soviet Union had come, and ordered his forces to attack Ukraine, which he accused of committing Atlantic dreams.

The pandemic was a full-fledged world war. The same can be said about Putin’s invasion, even if it is limited to the Ukrainian net until now. Despite the devastating effects of two successive world wars, the planet was drawn to the bright and spotless war represented by the World Cup.

The World Cup is a beautiful trap. The world has no choice but to fall into it and enjoy its battles. It’s a bloodless war, where losses cause no rubble. It’s a celebration of lights, excitement, cheers and applause.

It’s the most beautiful break in the world. Europeans, whose days are poisoned by talk of inflation, numbers, fears of the approaching winter, and energy supplies, have forgotten their pain and sat in front of screens.

The same is true of all nations that have sent their knights and bet that they will return with the glimmering cup.

The world, which was watching the Russian General Surovikin fire his missiles and drones at the Ukrainian infrastructure, is now busy with the goals of Ronaldo, Messi, Mbappe and others. People flocked from countries near and far to participate in the wedding of goals, lights and decent confrontations.

I was at the headquarters of the Saudi Research and Media Group in Riyadh when the “Green Wizard” defeated expectations and beat Argentina. A huge wave of joy swept the city and the country. How beautiful it is for the Saudi players to give their countries great feelings of joy and the flavor of celebrating the fruits of effort and determination. Similar waves blew on other capitals. We fell for the magic of the World Cup. I found it an opportunity to write, at least once, on a happy matter, away from the gloomy subjects that I try to approach every Monday.