Humour by Rehana Munir: Five FIFA World Cup offerings to non-fans

Every four years, the Test cricket fan in me gets a reality check. The FIFA World Cup, with its massive scale and magnificent scope, exposes cricket as a niche sport. This sobering reality comes with a silver lining. We non-fans may not really understand the offside rule, nor do we claim to get the club-driven sub-text of an attachment to a national side. But there’s still plenty of fun to be had for the faithless.

On-field drama

Butter-smooth limbs. Operatic overreactions. Style fixations. The paragons of masculinity seem to be feminine stereotypes! Twenty-two grown men chasing a ball is a laughably simple premise for my sporting brain, used to myriad cricketing rules of varying complexity and absurdity. But there’s something so cathartic about football-flavoured drama, where there isn’t even any pretence of controlling one’s emotions or behaving in a gentlemanly fashion. I’m forever fascinated by greying managers yelling passionately from the sidelines in well-cut suits; what an incongruous sight they make to the occasional viewer. It’s impossible not to get anthropological when witnessing the overall display of pride and aggression. So quaint.

Emotional supporters

Feelings aren’t exactly the conversational currency used by men, to make an annoyingly sweeping generalisation. And so, it’s always entertaining to see my strong, silent friends turn into these loudly expressive creatures when football season hits, especially on social media. E.g. “Messi”—followed by thirteen exclamation points. Or “Why, Mexico?”—accompanied by nine crying emojis. Such pathos. Like any budget social scientist, I too watch football matches in groups to see human nature at its most vulnerable. It’s such a perverse pleasure to see everyone intermittently explode while you “oooh” and “aaah” with the chilling remoteness of a character in Succession. Slyly, I too want to feel those scandalous highs and vulgar lows of football fans, but have read too much absurdist drama to allow myself to have any skin in the game. The next best thing: dry anthropological interest.

Geo-political layers

Players who display moral courage always have my support. (Iran refused to sing their national anthem early in the competition in solidarity with anti-authoritarian protests back home. News has recently come in of the nation dismantling its notorious moral police.) The football World Cup becomes a marathon lesson in geo-politics that no classroom session, private study or WhatsApp forward can match. The bloodless make a case for leaving politics out of sport; but that’s exactly what I like most about such an event. It is an occasion to show not just what sporting skill looks like, but what sportsmanship is all about. From sportsmanship, it’s an easy pass to humanitarian values, and an emphatic goal scored for people’s power. Vamos!

Non-partisan pleasures

It’s such fun for non-fans to support teams based on reasons as whimsical as “I had a great holiday in Croatia in 2003” to “Ghana have good jerseys”. I’m not making a virtue of flippancy. (Ok, maybe just a little bit.) I’m offering a peep into how liberating it can be to cheer on a side without the pressure of historic loyalty or strategic support. Randomness can be an enjoyable lens with which to view sport. One of the well-established rules of sporting atheists is: ‘Support the Underdog’. It feeds some primal desire to see the old hierarchies upturned and unlikely heroes emerge. Who can resist a good upset? *squirms away from the armies of die-hard Germany fans not here for the incidental joys*

Fantasy and fanfare

Public discourse is dominated by issues as dispiriting as the depleting layer of ozone and inflating ego of Musk. In this apocalyptic scenario, we have the World Cup’s endless seductions. No matter where we come from, geographically or emotionally, there’s a happy universal language we all have access to in this charmed period. Pick from the more traditional themes such as team and player performance, or take the more scenic route and focus on the glamour and gallantry, history and histrionics, fantasy and fanfare on offer. I for one enjoy reading about the competition online, drinking in the enthusiasm that my regular online diet lacks. Football writing, when it isn’t kicking around clichés, can be as magical as performances on the field. And you need no sporting loyalties to enjoy it.

Follow @rehana_munir on Twitter and Instagram

From HT Brunch, December 10, 2022

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