Football, the Religion Where Moses and Jesus Are on Opposing Teams


Football, the Religion Where Moses and Jesus Are on Opposing Teams

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Football is a religion, and its biggest festival – the FIFA World Cup – is in town. Moses plays for Nigeria, Jesus for Brazil, and for the coming month, Russia will be the new Bethlehem of the world. This holy site changes every four years with mutual agreement (and a bit of corruption).

Hindus have Diwali, Muslims have Eid, and football fans have the FIFA World Cup. Preparations begin a long time ago, and now there’s a celebratory atmosphere in the air. People will don jerseys of their favourite team, there will be much singing and dancing, crowds will get drunk, and sometimes, things might get ugly.

Okay, not the kind of ugly usually associated with religion – death, bloodshed and chaos. The football festival thrives on a different kind of fight – a banter, laced with sarcastic chants and witty zingers meant to roast the opposition. A football experience without banter is like Christmas without gifts – completely joyless.

Festivals are all about grandeur and fireworks. In India, it’s not a proper celebration until you’ve fucked up the environment a bit, and a football carnival is no different. Like a housing society cultural function, the FIFA World Cup also begins with fireworks. Those are followed by a few traditional performances, one elderly uncle gives a boring two-hour speech, and everyone chants in unison. Except, instead of bhajans, they’re likely to be singing the official tournament anthem. Remember Waka Waka?

You may not get the lyrics, but all you have to do to join in, is take two simple words and keep repeating them with increasing intensity. Or as Arnab would call it, debate.

The FIFA World Cup is the festival that the world needs desperately right now.

Religions can’t be taken seriously if they don’t have an all-powerful deity with an incredible background story and superhuman powers. The footballing pantheon has Gods like Messi, Ronaldo, and Neuer. Through the course of the tournament, new players will go on to attain godly status and cult followings (made up of teenagers copying their hairstyles), while many others will end up being villains for horrendous mistakes and painful misses.

Festivals are a time to come together, when everything is forgiven and forgotten, at least for those few days. You pretend to get along with cousins you wish you didn’t know, and put up with the probing questions of your mom’s brother’s sister-in-law’s uncle. Similarly, for a month, everyone will forget that Vladimir Putin’s critics mysteriously die in Russia or that women are oppressed in Saudi Arabia. Portugal will pretend to get along with Spain, Iran with Saudi Arabia, and Japan with Korea.

After all, festivals are all about spreading cheer, no matter how grim the world might seem. Games begin with handshakes and end with jerseys being exchanged. Everyone will be nice to each other (except for the odd, two-footed, flying tackle) and fans will cheer and jeer for everyone equally. Maybe not equally, with Sergio Ramos getting booed with every touch of the football and Icelandic counter-attacks being received with a thumping Mexican wave.

The FIFA World Cup is the festival that the world needs desperately right now. Your language, nationality, sexuality, and skin colour are irrelevant. All you are required to do is join this spectacle and have a good time with a bag of chips and a pint of beer. The prayer chants are easy, you can pick your own Gods, there are no compulsory rituals, and most of all, you don’t get lynched for nothing.

With a following of more than three billion people, it could be the biggest religion in the world. And its mega carnival has just arrived. Let the game begin!