Reflections by Jerry Webber

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Larger Citizenship

Two world sporting events have caught my attention lately.

For over a month I've followed the World Cup. Played in South Africa this year, it is the World Championship of Football ("soccer" to those in the U.S.A.).

The World Cup is a big deal on the world stage. It is played every four years in a different location. And since soccer is the world's sport, the World Cup is embraced most everywhere as the pinnacle of sport . . . most everywhere but the United States. If you can imagine the anticipation of the Super Bowl in the United States and multiply that many times over, that's how the rest of the planet esteems the World Cup.

I first woke up to the World Cup in 2006 when on a mission endeavor to Estonia. Hotel lobbies and restuarants had televisions tuned into the games, with interested futball fans gathered to watch. It was obviously a big deal. I remember eating in one Estonian restuarant as a large group of people sat around a television watching a match that involved the German team. I wondered what interest a group of Estonians had in a German match. After awhile I realized that they were interested simply because the larger event was important.

The other event that I follow every July is the Tour de France, a three-week cycling extravaganza that circuits France. The race winds through the plains and mountains, from border to border. I watch the daily telecasts to see the beautiful French countryside and to be blown away by the majestic mountains. But I'm also drawn by the international flavor of the event. Many of the riders are from Europe and some from North America. There are a few Asian riders, some from South America, and some prominent Australians.

Frankly, Americans don't pay much attention to the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong from Austin won the Tour seven times in the last decade, but still the race hasn't entered the consciousness of most Americans -- beyond asking, "How did Lance do today?"

I don't watch these events because I know much about either of them. I don't know all the rules of soccer, and I'm still learning the strategies of team cycling. And I'm not interested in them because I want to root for the United States to "win another one!" I'm interested in them because they are important to other people in the world. Sure, they are sporting events, and they are not significant in terms of major world events. But they are embraced by a wider audience than "my tribe" or "my nation." To me, that makes them important.

Frankly, you can read online comments posted by Americans about these two events that are absolutely embarrassing. Many of them diminish these sporting events simply because they are not important in the United States. It's pretty common to find a large group of people who agree, for instance, that if the World Cup really were a big deal, the United States would be the big favorite to win it. But since the United States has never come close to a World Cup title, the event -- and the sport -- must not be that important.

Such thinking smacks of arrogance and ignorance. "If we can't win, it must not be important!" "If we're not good at it, the whole thing must be irrelevant!"

I don't have interest in these two events because I want to see the United States win the World Cup. I don't lose interest in the Tour de France if Lance Armstrong has no chance of winning. I watch and have interest because I'm not only a citizen of the United States of America, but because I have a larger citizenship. I'm a citizen of the human race.

My own small world -- even my own country -- is not the only context for my life. Like you, I am a part of a larger family, with a larger, more expansive citizenship.

No comments: