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World Cup 2018: the dark side of offside

Stats show a link between sporting events and abuse. How can Christians support teams with integrity

Is it me or does it feel like this World Cup has already gone on for at least 10 years? Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight as, in December, I’m marrying a man who loves the game.

While I don’t see the appeal, I’m not disputing the potential benefits of football – although I do deeply believe that vuvuzelas should be criminalised. When looking at initiatives like Prince Harry’s Invictus Games, it’s clear that sport can be a fantastic way to unite people, find purpose, and work as a team.

It’s just that, like with many things, how we steward sport determines whether it’s a constructive or destructive force in society. There’s reason to believe that, as is sadly the case with many major sporting events, human trafficking increases around the World Cup. The evidence is inconclusive, but what has been shown is an increased demand for prostitution and sexual exploitation.

Research also shows that when England loses a match, domestic violence in the UK rises by 38%. What almost horrifies me more, however, is that when England wins a match, domestic violence still rises by 26%. The lack of correlation between match result and increased domestic violence suggests that alcohol consumption could be a factor. Ultimately, regardless of whether England wins or loses, we, as a society, are failing.

While football as a game may bring us together, build community, and offer purpose, football as a culture can bring out the very worst of our instincts. This is what happens when we allow our competitiveness, selfishness, and pride to overtake our simple love of a game.

Because even if it is only a game, fundamentally, the result of a match doesn’t only have implications for the 22 players on the pitch. When we cheer for teams like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are we considering the persecution of Christians and human rights violations that are rife in those countries? When watching a match in a pub, how do we react to knowing that, statistically, someone present will go home and abuse a loved one? If we support the game but don’t speak up for the people damaged by its culture, are we neglecting our duty of care for vulnerable people?

How do we, as Christians, support our teams with integrity? I don’t pretend to suggest there’s an easy answer to this, but if we take seriously our biblical calling to be salt and light”, to be in the world but not of it”, then we need to start asking these questions.

First and foremost, let’s remember that we are citizens of heaven, before we’re supporters of any country’s team – our allegiance to the latter shouldn’t compromise that of the former. This doesn’t mean we need to abstain from everything in this world, but it should mean that we earnestly long for God’s kingdom to come on earth more than we want to see our team win.

Our hope in Jesus gives us far greater community, far deeper purpose, and far more reason to celebrate than football ever could. Whether we win or lose, God is on our side, and Jesus paid the price so that we will win the prize – as Paul said in one of his many sporting analogies. Faith in Jesus unites us with a family of believers from across every nation – God’s kingdom is borderless.

If we want people to know the good news of Jesus, then, believe it or not, I think we should emulate the enthusiasm and tenacity of Mexico’s fans. According to seismologists, when Mexico won its game last weekend, the population was so elated that there was an artificial earthquake: they literally shook the earth. The gospel is worth giving up weekends for. It’s worth cheering for. It’s worth shaking the earth for.

If you have experienced domestic violence, or know someone who has, please know that you are not alone or unseen, and help is available.

About the author

Eve is a military kid and Durham Theology graduate, who spent a year studying graphic design before joining the Evangelical Alliance in 2017. She is passionate about creativity, seeing God's kingdom come, and anything that involves cheese and/or gin. Nomadic at heart, Eve lives in the architectural wonderland of Cambridge and commutes into London to work alongside the dream team at 176. She is insistent that ‘forward planning’ is the sixth official love language and, as such, runs the behind-the-scenes of greatcommission.co.uk, ensuring the UK church is equipped to share Jesus wherever we are.

See more from Eve Balshaw

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