World Cup Musings: Lessons from the last match

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, July 13, 2006

Singapore -- In the final minutes of the last World Cup match, Zidane, the captain and star player of France, got sent off the field with a red card for head-butting Materazzi from the Italian team. Some consider his rash violence unpardonable, especially since he was a role model for so many youths. Our deeds do ripple with effects throughout the universe, be they in waves huge or small!

<< Zinedine Zidane's infamous head-butt

It's never cool to loose your cool. No matter how one might be provoked, be it verbally or physically, the rule is that "physical retribution" should never be exacted on the field. Yes, differences should be sorted out gentlemanly. A universally sound moral reminder indeed! With negative karma created by his intentional action, Zidane reluctantly received instant karmic retribution for breaking the rule.

Being unforgiving to a player, neither was he "forgiven" by the referee. Materazzi claimed that Zidane himself provoked his provocation. Unsure of who really started provoking the other, we can be sure though, that there are no effects without the coming together of causes and conditions. Such is the law of cause and effect.

But even so, all external provocations merely "serve" as conditions for our wilful and thus inexcusable effects of bad behaviour. The cause of anger is from within us, never without. Be it on or off the field, we all need moral guidelines. A game where all rules are flouted would cease to be a game; becoming a war instead! Scrutinised by cameras, Zidane shocked the world with how he concluded his glorious football career with such an ugly blemish. Now, the golden question we should ask ourselves is - "What if we were in Zidane's shoes?" How would we have reacted? It is more spiritually fruitful to reflect upon ourselves than to point fingers at Zidane or Materazzi.

Ironically a mostly reserved person, Zidane's fuse was too short in that single moment that mattered so much. As a Buddhist saying goes, "A spur of anger can burn away a forest of merits." Such is the potentially destructive power of anger. Dubbed the best player of the tournament nevertheless (unless revoked later), will the world remember him more for entering the proverbial hall of fame, or for entering the infamous hall of shame? Now that the football fever is subsiding, the fire of anger has hopefully burnt out, but what about the slow fire of regret? It certainly needs to be doused with the cooling water of repentance and forgiveness. Zidane need to forgive himself after repenting, just as his fans need to forgive him too.

The "perfect" hero momentarily became a blamed villain, for thwarting his team's chances of being champion. Letting rage consume him, he lost mindfulness of the larger picture. With Zidane's absence, France lost by missing a goal by mere inches. So near yet so far, a near miss is still a complete miss. He had let himself, his team, country and fans all over the world down? But is it wholly his fault? Well, football needs interdependent collective efforts. One might as well also blame the rest of his team being too reliant on him, of not being good enough without him?

This reflects life beyond the field too - there are no independent mistakes in the interconnecting web of life. No need for any blame game after any game. What's more important is to mindfully learn to better ourselves through our experiences, even as mere spectators of others' experiences!

Contrasting Zidane's fiery outburst were the penalty shootouts after drawing, during which there was no anger for those involved - but only calm and focus. All emotional highs and lows arise when this mindfulness is lost. Which reminds me, have we forgotten what the World Cup is essentially about? For the players, it is simply an opportunity to enjoy playing ball with the international best. For the fans, it is simply a chance to enjoy watching. Anything beyond that is a spiritual corruption - strife for the worldly winds of individual and collective gains, fame and praise.

As the stakes escalate, the trophy sits ever so innocently on the pedestal it never asked to be on... indifferent to the upheaval of emotions over it. True sportsmanship is after all without the politics of greed, hatred and delusion. The "empty" trophy means whatever we want it to represent.

The World Cup is almost reality TV, where we see human nature at its arguably best and worst, sometimes on the brink of breaking into "war" - among the players and fans. We see some play-acting too. How real is reality TV when the everyone knows there are cameras watching? We see scenes of the extremely jubilant and extremely dejected at the end of each game. So where is the Middle Path of peace and equanimity? Winners should empathise with the defeated, just as Camoranesi from the Italian team comforted Trezeguet, for missing the crucial equalising penalty. Vice versa, the losers should congratulate the winners with sincere appreciative joy.

It's just a game. Let's make it a truly "beautiful game" - by letting it bond the world with fellowship, instead of dividing any two parties - even if it is just two groups of fans, two countries, two teams or two players. Just look at the joyous World Cup logo (above). Let's remember the ideal spirit of sports!