Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

It's OK to watch World Cup while the world burns

By Frida Ghitis
updated 9:37 AM EDT, Sun June 22, 2014
Germany's Mario Gotze scores the goal that would decide the World Cup final Sunday, July 13, in Rio de Janeiro. Gotze, a late substitute, scored the goal in extra time as Germany won 1-0. Click through the gallery to see all the goals scored in the World Cup. Germany's Mario Gotze scores the goal that would decide the World Cup final Sunday, July 13, in Rio de Janeiro. Gotze, a late substitute, scored the goal in extra time as Germany won 1-0. Click through the gallery to see all the goals scored in the World Cup.
HIDE CAPTION
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
Goooal! Keeping score at the World Cup
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
139
140
141
142
143
144
145
146
147
148
149
150
151
152
153
154
155
156
157
158
159
160
161
162
163
164
165
166
167
168
169
170
171
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Is it OK to watch World Cup games while the world is in strife?
  • She says people everywhere take a break to bask in the emotion of the games
  • There's a long history of sport being a harmless way to express rivalries, she says
  • Ghitis: It's just a game, but the emotions are real

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for the Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Amsterdam (CNN) -- Is it wrong to watch football while the world's on fire? Is it wrong to love the World Cup, to get excited about a goal scored in Brazil while there's mayhem in Iraq, destruction in Syria, Russian troops massing near Ukraine?

The answer is no. Enjoy the Cup.

When I was a child I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: Instead of fighting all those awful wars, countries with gripes should challenge each other to a soccer game. The victor could be declared the winner without all the nastiness of fighting a real war.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

My childhood plan for world peace didn't pan out, but soccer, and the World Cup in particular, remains the premiere arena for make-believe international conflict. It captivates massive crowds, stokes intense rivalries and fills people with surprisingly intense emotions.

This is true even for the people caught in the middle of real wars. In Syria, in the middle of a civil war, rebel fighters put their weapons aside to watch the World Cup. In Baghdad, as the ruthless ISIS jihadists march toward the Iraqi capital, cafes are filled with people watching the Cup.

In Vienna, Iranian officials took a break from nuclear negotiations to watch their team. Refugees, astronauts, politicians are all watching the World Cup.

Clearly, there's no need for the rest of us to feel guilty. No need for mixed feeling about switching between Obama's announcement on Iraq and the Colombia-Ivory Coast match.

In Europe, where nationalism got a bad name after World War II, patriotic pride overflows with uncharacteristic fearlessness when the national teams play.

Even people who never pay attention to soccer, known almost everywhere as football, are cheering, bragging about Van Persie's spectacular diving header against Spain.

Bedoya: U.S. ready for Portugal
World Cup Eats & Drinks
Pele: Germany, Netherlands two best teams

The streets of Amsterdam, where I am right now, are filled with the royal colors, with orange streamers, orange flags and toy soccer balls hanging over pedestrian streets and canal boats. When the Netherlands plays, everyone watches.

People love sports, but they love the World Cup for special reasons. Like other competitions, it resembles life in that the outcomes are the product of skill, merit, luck and even unfairness. All the preparation in the world can come to nothing because of a slip in the grass, an unexpected shove, a referee's mistake. Unlike other tournaments, this one puts countries of all sizes on the stage. Small ones can topple big ones.

It seems as if entire nations take each other on. All the wealth and power in the world cannot protect a squad. The United States is an underdog. China didn't qualify. England was defeated by tiny, tight-shirted Uruguay.

The tournament distills human emotions to their essence. With so much passion, every point triggers an explosion of unadulterated happiness. What can capture human emotions better than those reaction images from the stands? In Amsterdam, when the team scores, I mute my television and hear the entire city roar with exhilaration.

The tournament may have political resonance, occasionally pitting rival countries, but it also brings out the child in every fan. I have seen grown men walk around wearing neon-bright orange wigs, no doubt wishing they were in the stands in Porto Alegre with their faces painted and Styrofoam cheese for a hat. Everyone's a child.

Another electrifying aspect of the Cup is that the entire world is watching, even in countries not playing. I have found myself working in a variety of countries during the World Cup, often during times of conflict. For some reason, people everywhere seem to dance in the streets when Brazil wins a match.

National pride is tightly wound with every country's squad. When a Dutch actress tweeted a Photoshopped picture making it look as if Colombian players were snorting the foam marking kick lines, Colombia protested, and the actress, Nicolette van Dam, lost her post as a UNICEF ambassador. Peace was restored.

The idea that there could be a connection between soccer and peace, as it turns out, came up long before I mentioned it to my father years ago. One of history's poignant moments came during World War I, in December 1914 -- almost exactly 100 years ago -- when a Christmas truce was declared and German and British soldiers set their guns aside to play a friendly soccer match. When the truce ended, the killing resumed.

Unfortunately, soccer is no panacea. Even violence directly connected to the Cup occurs.

For most, the World Cup is a wonderful distraction from the difficulties of daily life, from wars and from work, from challenging circumstances and from the knowledge that there is so much else that is serious and troubling in the world.

It is not wrong to watch, much less to enjoy the event, even if it does not prevent or stop any real wars.

Around the globe, the World Cup is a source of sheer excitement, except for the moment when one's favorite team loses. But here's the beauty: When your team loses the disappointment is deep, the sadness is real.

Then you remember it's just a game.

It's really not the end of the world.

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Russia didn't qualify for the World Cup.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT