In 1969, Honduras and El Salvador fought a pretty gruesome war over immigration. Usually referred to as The Football War, this conflict came to a head during qualifying for the 1970 World Cup where both nations faced off in an elimination match to determine who moved another step closer to hoisting the world’s most eminent trophy. If only the countries chose to decide their political and economic matters on the soccer pitch instead of the battlefield…
It’s a classic question; one that has been asked since virtually the dawn of time. Why is war used as a way of settling differences? Why is violence the chosen method of conflict resolution? Everyone but the most vile in the world asks this at some point in their life, whether it’s verbally voiced or subconsciously recognized. It’s a simple questions, isn’t it? So why isn’t there an answer?
I won’t make this some extended article bent on trying to explain and answer this question. Personally, I have a hunch that it has very much to do with people never being taught how to appropriately handle themselves in relationships and inter-personal communication. That is, our gut instinct, our initial reaction, is to meet conflict and disagreement with violence. In that regard, we’re a Nation of Children. We hit when we don’t get our way. We whine and cry. We even search out other willing parties to join us or supply us with some sort of forceful revenge. We turn ourselves to some ostensible benefactor that tells us that things will be safe and sound as long as we put faith in them.
No, I won’t get into that here…
Instead, I want to make a suggestion for the replacement of war. And with it we’ll come full circle (an admittedly short full circle considering the length of this post) back to how I began this entry.
For the last century and a half, professional sports have become the modern day rendition of the Roman gladiator. Former soldiers, brute criminals, hardened laborers, etc, would take the sandy stages of coliseums around the Empire to prove themselves better and more worthy of fame than the next scumbag or slave. If you somehow managed to find yourself victorious in the confines of that death pit, you held the prestige of the entire city, and sometimes the entire continent.
But gladiatory bouts lost favor as the Empire collapsed. Sport eventually arose to become a mainstay of cities and towns and villages, well beyond the usual games that were played by children and youth. Especially in the football (read: soccer) realm, this competition was laid to prove what town was better. Rivalries (or, as they call it in the UK, derbies) were formed. Different towns, or sections of the same town, would square off in pitched battle. Eleven aside with a crude ball made out of a pigs stomach or patches of cow hide. The winner had bragging rights until a new bout was arranged. Thus individuals were given an identity by associating with their location of residence. Battles for London or Manchester or Frankfurt or Berlin or Lyon or Madrid were waged to decide what group of townsfolk were better than the others.
Eventually, somewhere in the middle of the 19th century, organization was given to the sport of soccer. Like in most things within the past two centuries, England led the charge, organizing themselves into leagues and eventually, after much effort, forming tiers of competition. The Football Association was inaugurated in 1863, which paved the way for the Football League, and eventually the Premiership. Other countries followed suit over the next several decades. Also, it should be pointed out, America did the same with baseball during the same time frame.
The turn of the 20th century saw a rise of professional sport, especially after World War I. Where the Olympics stressed amateurism in their competition, formalized sports leagues stressed paid athletes that excelled at and advanced the game. In the late 1920’s, this clash of dichotomy came to a head on the international stage, which concluded in the rise in dominance of FIFA and the World Cup, which temporarily took the place of Olympic soccer.
The rest should be history. The next several decades saw expansion efforts in all sports, especially soccer, and the level of sport increased dramatically. And, through all this, professional athleticism has, in my opinion, taken the mantel of the ol’ violent cage fighting of Roman times.
Just as in ancient times an entire conflict could be resolved not in mass armies dukin’ it out, but by the best warrior from each party battling for supremacy, why not have soccer serve the same purpose? The World’s Game is literally played everywhere, with set rules governed by a (somewhat) respectable organization and in a format that is agreed upon by everyone. It’d minimize resources being diverted towards the conflict, yet it’d settle matters in as humane a way as possible.
Instead of spending literally billions or even trillions of dollars in prolonged fighting in the most brutal environments with the most lethal yet painful weapons imaginable while subjecting warriors to emotional and mental trauma that scars them for lifetimes, why not choose something a bit less… destructive?
It may seem silly or trivial when conflict is put into the perspective of a game. And it may seem idealistic to suggest the brutal traditions of war be traded for less-violent means. But how silly does it make armed battle look, and why not dream of finally turning those swords and spears into plowshares and pruning hooks?