In a couple of days, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will begin, and the eyes of the world will turn to Russia to witness the best footballing nations in the world showcase the beautiful game.
However, to find the actual beating heart of this sport, we need to look away from the glitz and glamour of commercialized leagues and the World Cup, and turn our attention to conflict ravaged streets and poverty-stricken slums.
Here the simple act of scoring a goal provides a brief moment of transcendence from the grind of everyday life.
From the favelas of South America to war ravaged African streets to kids playing in the slush filled grounds of Nagaland, the spirit of football is kept alive, despite the disgusting extravagance and grimy corruption of established institutions in the sport.
Here in Nagaland, the sport has a special place in everyone’s hearts, with a historic connection through Indian footballing legend Dr T Ao and the general fascination with the World Cup ever since television made its first appearance here. Football and the World Cup in particularly is an event that grips the imaginations of almost everyone here, whether they follow it regularly or not.
The hype is supersized particularly during World Cups, however, there is a vast amount of people, young and old, that follow international leagues throughout the year religiously. And consequently, the highs and lows of European football clubs are ingrained into their Naga identity.
While the cynics find it laughable at the sight of people from this isolated corner of the world debating on the intricacies of transfer dealings in the English Second Division; what we often forget is that sports can transcend everything.
Given our people’s attachment to football and the lack of any sustainable, organized and inclusive sporting structure, the passion for the game which could be felt about our own people in the sport is instead diverted to those in far away continents.
For too long have the people as well as successive government structures harped on the development of sport, showcasing an inability to transform rhetoric to reality. Whether the current state dispensation manages to change this remains to be seen. Despite this, inspiring stories of sporting excellence from Nagaland have emerged, but they remain under-supported or neglected.
In this grim sporting reality, the infatuation with sport, and particularly football, is yet alive and kicking. The World Cup will feature millionaire players playing in stadiums built with sums of money that would be truly life changing for millions of people.
While a contrast from realities of football in the streets and mud covered ground of Nagaland and the world over, the sport in itself provides a sanctuary from the daily challenges and in other parts of the world from the horrors of conflict.
As we watch the World Cup together, along with the spectacle, let this be a celebration of what football in its core truly signifies—a means to break down the barriers of language, race, creed and color; to tear down the walls that exist between us in much the same way as music, literature and art.
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