Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sports, pride, and poverty

Sunday night of a football-filled weekend. Last night was the Russia-Holland match of the Euro Cup, a match which might have slipped by as one of the less important of the tournamet, if it weren't for the strong Dutch expat presence in Maputo. As it were, there was a rowdy, happy gathering of Dutch and others in one of the popular expat bars in the city, which I somehow stumbled onto. I don't watch soccer as a fan, but I do get caught up in the games when I watch with a dedicated crowd. And I have to say, the Dutch in their bright orange shirts won me over, and by the end of the game, an upset loss, I was almost as disappointed as the rest of them. I said almost.

Today, I had the opportunity to see a live game between the Mozambican national team, the Mambas, and the Madagascar team. Again, I had never watched a Mamba game before -- but it was impossible not to get swept up by the thousands of cheering, dancing, heckling, celebrating fans in the stadium. Here are some pictures:

Guys carrying Mozambican flags -- and dressed in Mozambican flags -- watch the band play the national anthem.



The guards were carrying batons, guns, and gas masks. Good thing everything stayed calm.

The game made me so happy, as it clearly made everyone else so happy, that I got to thinking about sports and their importance in our lives. Sports bring out feelings in us that are basic and universal: pride, competitiveness, and comraderie. Athletes around the world, whether footballers in Mozambique or baseball players in the States, inspire these emotions in their fans.

Money, of course, can confer advantages, like fancy equipment and trainers. But an athlete is an athlete, a game is a game, and a fan is a fan. Sports provide an even playing field, as it were, for civic or national pride, and pride in the athleticism of men and women. In a place, like Mozambique, where it is hard to be carefree -- hard to forget about the difficulties facing life each day -- football provides a pure sense of pride and competition. Becoming enveloped in a game and infected by the enthusiasm of the crowd feels like freedom.

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