Wednesday June 5, 2013
The 26.5 million Euro Suárez Difference
As the Chief Rabbi of a country, there are some responsibilities I have, that on the surface would appear to have nothing to do with Judaism or religion.
Today I had the distinct honor of attending the football (soccer, for Americans) match between Uruguay’s national team and the French. To my American friends whose brains are shutting down at the mere mention of this sport, I will take this opportunity to educate you a bit regarding the “beautiful game” as it is rightly called.
First of all, there is something pure, perhaps even sacred about watching a match in the stadium, in person. Removed is the subjective focus of the cameramen and editors. Removed is the chaotic excitement of the announcers. Removed are the annoying ads on the screen. Instead you have pure football.
Now, it has been argued that football is boring because it is a low scoring game. Such arguments are merely representative of an “instant gratification” mentality. The beauty of the game is not merely in the scoring. It is the struggle. It is the effort. It is the process. It is the journey. It is the dance of the players on the field. It is their reflexes, speed and work. It is not the violent battle of American Football (which I also like, and if duty called I would attend such matches as well). It is not the easy multiplicity of scoring in basketball. It is not the summer picnic of a baseball game. It is only the most popular sport on Earth. And it is captivating.
Now, yes, some have argued against organized sports in general and grown men, wearing pajamas, chasing a ball. I myself have argued as to the disturbing similarity such pastimes have to Idol Worship of old, the players who are worshipped, the stadium as temple, the games as service, the costumes and flags as holy garb, the fans whose lives revolve around the team, with little meaning beyond the paraphernalia and vicarious experiences of the team that at the end of the day is cynically trying to make money out of its fan base.
Nonetheless. Nonetheless, there is some value there, perhaps even much, especially in a world that has so many other ailments, so many other negative, violent and degrading forms of entertainment – we should not be so quick to put down this relatively benign form.
But back to the game. France is a serious team and they show their strength in the first half of the game. They dominate the field, cruising through the Uruguayan defense only to be stopped by the excellent goalie. They make multiple significant threats upon the Uruguayan goal. When Uruguay takes possession they make a valiant effort, but the French defense is stronger. By the end of the first half, I’m convinced France is the stronger team and it is a matter of time before they score.
In the meantime, I ask my host, the President of the Comunidad Israelita del Uruguay, as to the whereabouts of the world-famous Uruguayan player, Luis Suárez. He is a striker for the famed Liverpool club who acquired him in a 26.5 million Euro deal a number of years ago.
My host tells me that Suárez had been suspended from playing in a number of games in Europe and perhaps for that reason he wasn’t on the field. But, in the beginning of the second half we were pleasantly surprised to see Suárez on the field.
What followed was pure artistry and made me understand his high price tag. He weaved and moved with a speed and dexterity that threw his opponents off balance. He would suddenly appear and then disappear again. Touching the ball strategically, setting up his teammates with dangerous passes and threatening the French side. Within five minutes he scored a goal which he made look easy. The rest of the game Uruguay dominated. France was on the defensive. They barely got possession of the ball. Uruguay on the other hand kept hammering away at the French defense, with multiple close calls that got the crowd on its feet.
Speaking of the crowd, it is simply much more fun to watch a game together with 50,000 other people. The reactions of the crowd are truer and better than any announcers soliloquy, no matter how excited the announcer may pretend to be. The gasps, the boos, the cat-calls, the whistling, the chanting (yes, again idol worship parallels), the sudden, instantaneous standing of the entire stadium in anticipation of a goal – these all convey the action in a significantly amplified and emotional way. It is just much more fun.
But now back to Suárez. The difference between the first half of the game and the second were considerable. The Uruguayan national team is blessed with numerous high-level, international caliber and better behaved players. I imagine that economically Suárez is worth the price he was paid (I understand that Liverpool may put him up for sale for an even larger amount), and he certainly seems to deliver on the field. However, for me, for those few moments, between the despair for Uruguay engendered in the first half of the game, and the hope, surprise, optimism and confidence that was introduced five minutes into the second half, represented by the efforts of one man, albeit with the strenuous support of the entire team – was actually inspiring.
My job is to report that. My job is to transmit that. My job is to take that element that is common, appreciated, understood, interesting and unifying to a large swath of Jews of Uruguay and highlight the values, the importance, the meaning that may be just below the surface. Suárez demonstrates and reminds us of something that we all know. Even if the outlook is bleak, even if the odds are against us – one person can make a difference. In fact, it is usually one person who makes the difference.