06/16/2014 12:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The World Cup and World Civilization

We anticipate a time when competition among the nations may be a phenomenon chiefly witnessed in the sporting arena, whereas interactions on the global stage will be dominated by cooperation, reciprocity, and mutual support. We pray that this present occasion will redound to the honour of the great nation of Brazil as hosts and that the event will inspire not only passing fellowship but lasting solidarity among all who participate and the countless millions who spectate.

These sentiments are from a letter of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Baha'i community, to Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff on the occasion of the opening of the World Cup. A number of the world's religious leaders addressed letters of greeting, and the thoughts they expressed are interesting to contemplate in parallel with the excitement on the field of play. In a message from Pope Francis:

Sport is not only a form of entertainment, but also a tool to communicate the values that promote the good of the human person and help to build a more peaceful and fraternal coexistence... Football... can and should be a school for the formation of a "culture of encounter," leading to harmony and peace among peoples -- teaching as it does the value of fair play and authentic team effort.

The Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmad El Tayeb, expressed the hope that the World Cup would be:

an opportunity to spread peace and equality among the people, to transmit feelings of love and brotherhood, to get rid of injustice; evil and discrimination among humanity, to help the weak, the poor, the patient and the underprivileged. Our societies need such morals enhanced by good sportsmanship. The people will find this in all the divine messages and religions.


Oded Wiener, Director General of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, stated:

Sport should be seen, in and of itself, as a means to fulfill our obligations towards the divine gift of health and well-being. Team sport has the power to inculcate human values of cooperation and responsibility, and make us accept successes and failures with dignity. The FIFA World Cup offers us all the opportunity to highlight the positive value of creative competition that must be expressed with respect and fairness. Above all, it offers the opportunity to promote goodwill between the nations of the world and to emphasize the divine value of human dignity, without differences of race, color or belief.

In a survey included in an article I wrote last year for the Huffington Post, 94 percent of respondents said that they believed the human race was evolving towards some kind of a world civilization. It is interesting in this light to contemplate the emerging global culture, as expressed in the words of the Universal House of Justice:

It is clear to every observer that the sport that has brought these nations to Brazil is only strengthened by the marvelous diversity of the participants. To rejoice in this fact is to reject prejudice in all its forms. Truly, nothing is more striking about this extraordinary footballing spectacle than its capacity to reflect the global culture that has emerged in this age. And in summoning together the nations in friendship, it powerfully suggests that collaboration and common endeavor are possible in all things.

Image: The Seat of the Universal House of Justice

Of course, while contemplating the evolution towards a world civilization and culture, it would be naïve not to acknowledge the immense difficulties that lie ahead. The evolution of the United States from 13 colonies into a unified republic was severely tested by the fires of a brutal civil war, and on a world scale it is sobering to remember the chain of events that began exactly 100 years ago this summer in Europe. In this light, it is interesting to think of the countless millions watching this year's World Cup not as just merely spectators, but as potential players in team human race that are needed to make worldwide peace a reality. In the words of the House of Justice:

A sporting contest, even one on such a scale as this, cannot obscure the severity of the challenges that confront humankind. But in the weeks to come, we hope that observers everywhere--especially the youth of the world--will take heart from the many examples of teamwork, fair play, valour, and earnest striving that are sure to surface in the tournament. God willing, they will aspire to show those same qualities in their lives, in service to their communities, and in the promotion of peace. Whether labouring for the elimination of every trace of racism and discrimination, championing the equality of women and men, or seeking to advance justice, the efforts of every member of the human family are necessary. Constructive change is possible everywhere. Man, woman, youth, and child -- all have an essential contribution to make.

What do you think? In the future, could competition among nations be primarily on the sporting field? I look forward to reading your comments.