The World Cup as a Religious Event

ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk, Austrian Radio) reports on the views of sports sociologist Robert Gugutzer of the University of Frankfurt. He maintains that the World Cup provides for a “We-feeling” in times of gloablisation. He holds that the World Cup “has the same function as religion. It is lived in community. It is a reprieve from daily life, it makes use of symbols and rituals.” That big-crowd events are so beloved indicates an enduring great need for community and collective belonging – despite all tendencies toward individualization. The importance of traditional communities such as the church, and even families, is shrinking. New forms come in their place. “Public viewing is a harmless opportunity to express ones identification with the collective, such as one’s own nation, with relish, creativity, and good fun.” Further: “Public viewing is an out-of-the-ordinary unique world, temporally and spatially delimited, with quasi-religious character.” There are processions together to a place of gathering, singing of songs, and ecstatic exuberance to express hope. The focus is not on an individual soccer player or soccer as a sport. “Rather, it is an individualized God, one’s own ME, that is celebrated with the large crowd.” Thus even people who understand nothing about soccer join in celebrating.

3 comments

  1. I take issue with this sociologist’s claim that religion is a “reprieve from daily life.” Does he equate religion to a drug — something that “takes the edge off” so to speak? I realize that the unfortunate tendency to categorize “religion” and belief systems in this manner exists. However, belief systems should be seen as shaping daily life. Daily life should comprise fundamentally the daily manifestation of one’s belief system — of one’s faith. This is, of course, where liturgy can play a central role.

    Furthermore, I’m surprised that a European describes the World Cup per se as a “reprieve from daily life.” For millions of avid soccer and football fans across the globe, the World Cup consumes their daily lives for a period of time before, during, and after the event! I don’t think Americans fully understand or appreciate how big a deal the World Cup is across the globe. I contend it’s at least on par with if not greater than the Super Bowl.

  2. A ritual study of the world cup would be interesting. Jeff brings up a lot of good points in his piece. His analysis of belief systems, liturgy, religion and their connection is solid so I don’t need to comment further. The challenge in this whole situation is how to examine a soccer game as a ritual. Since much of the activity is reactionary (based upon what the ritual leaders of the field are doing), it’s hard to measure participation and what individuals in the crowd are really doing; though the collective chants, cheers, and bullhorns make for interesting ritual decor.
    However, I would say that compared to working or running around busily in society; the World Cup (and any soccer international event in general, UEFA gets the same kinds of devoted attendance.) is a break from life. For this period of time, life is not about the work people do, but really about being part of something bigger. This is what makes it interesting to study as a ritual, because so many people around the world participate in this common activity, and I believe that to begin to understand the world, one must understand the appeal of the World Cup because it is bigger than the Super Bowl, and I know I’ll be watching a lot of soccer in the next month 🙂

  3. Yah…sure….as long as that constant buzz of the horn-blowing fans doesn’t ever become a part of Catholic liturgy…

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