God and the World Cup

fifa-world-cup-orgIn an interesting piece in the Daily Telegraph, Mick Brown tries to make some theological points about the World Cup. His most interesting conclusion is that Catholic countries fare much better than Protestant ones when it comes to the World Cup. Apparently it’s fourteen titles against four. It’s the sort of factoid that could cause a bit of heated debate in some Ulster pubs.

Brazil may be considered a Catholic country, (at the last census in 2000, 70% of the population described themselves as Catholic), but the Assembly of God Pentecostal denomination has more people worshipping in their churches in the greater Sao Paulo area than in the whole of the US. It is a country of mixed religious convictions.

One of Brazil’s most gifted players, Kaká, is an evangelical Christian. At the age of 18, he suffered a career-threatening and possibly paralysis-inducing spinal fracture as a result of a swimming pool accident, but remarkably made a full recovery. He attributes his recovery to God and has since tithed his income to his church. I thought his response to being given a very dubious red card in Brazil’s game against the Ivory Coast was very controlled, and in my humble estimation Brazil is the team to beat in this World Cup.

Some players attribute their performance on the field to divine help. The best known was Maradona in 1986, who made the important contribution that led to the exit of England from the competition. He was ready to take some credit himself: “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.

If that principle of the necessity for divine intervention is true then one might expect that there will be an upsurge in devotion all across England tonight. My Linfield-supporting friend’s favourite joke is “What’s the difference between praying in church and praying at Windsor Park? At Windsor Park, you really mean it!” English supporters will need to pray hard, and mean it. As Mick Brown says, their only hope is that God is, after all, an Englishman. I don’t think so.