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    Volume 9 Issue 26| June 25, 2010|

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The Games that Stop Everything

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Ever since the news of villagers bashing each other up – one person was actually killed -because they supported two different football teams, namely Brazil and Argentina, a long time before the actual World Cup started, it was quite clear that war had been officially declared. Just as we are fanatical BNP or AL supporters, the majority of us are Brazil or Argentina zealots. It is like a trait passed on from one generation to the next. The intensity of this adoration for either team can be quite intimidating.

According to recent news reports, BUET, one of the most prestigious universities of the country and a constant feather in our cap for its lack of unruly students and abundance of brilliant ones, became a ball of tension when seniors and juniors got into a brawl. The reason apparently was because the juniors wanted to watch the university to give them a long holiday so they could watch the World Cup in peace. The seniors wanted classes to continue for the 'trivial' reason of wanting to graduate on time. It may seem bizarre that young people would rather sacrifice their academic schedule than miss a football match on TV but that's how Bangladeshis are about WC football. There just is no scope for compromise.

Anticipating the wrath of the people if there is load shedding during a major game, the government is in a palliating mood. It has requested factories to stop running their machines during the games and asked shopkeepers to close their establishments an hour earlier. The shopkeepers and factory owners may grumble all they like, but even they know it's no use when it comes to this most important event of our lives that World Cup football has become.

Supporters of each team are as aggressive as the players. At a newspaper office canteen for instance, the employees, males between age 12 to 19 are either Brazil or Argentina supporters evident from the bright green and yellow or blue and white T shirts along with fashionable accessories – headbands and wristbands – that have changed their usual scruffiness to a funky, sporty look. The downside of this ardent sport enthusiasm is that trouble may erupt at the drop of a hat. A verbal altercation can verge on the physical if say, an Argentina supporter makes a comment like: “Oh Kaka (Brazil) has become a Chacha (uncle), being kicked off the field after a hitting the rival player on the nose.” Or if a Brazilian aficionado comments rashly: “Maradonna is a crackpot”. People could lose their jobs, or worse, a few teeth and hair.

There are stories of couples not being on speaking terms because the beloved did not support the 'right' team and colleagues blatantly informing their bosses that they would not come to office the next day if their team lost. Televisions being sneaked away by people from another floor of an office and then retrieved by an irate colleague on the suddenly TV-deprived floor have been reported.

While Brazil and Argentina supporters bicker away - most of them don't even have a clue or care where these countries are located on the globe or what language their football idols speak - the television distributors have made a fortune. It's raining TVs these days. Offices have magnanimously installed flat screen LCD's on each floor and open-air screening can be found in playgrounds and even in the middle of a bazaar. Usually when one sees a cluster of people in the middle of the street it means an accident, a street fight or a pickpocket being bludgeoned away by random pedestrians. Now it means there is a television, no matter how small, airing that precious football match that everyone must watch.

It is heartening to see people, no matter what socio-economic branding they are stuck with, to be united in an event that is more international than perhaps even the Olympics. The inspiring World Cup theme song Wavin Flag by K'naan in various languages and Shakira's characteristically scintillating Waka Waka (This Time for Africa), is certainly testimony to the fact that football and music can really bring people of every colour, religion, race or nationality, together.

For the tiny minority of non-football people, however, it is a lonely time, with no one to talk to as everyone speaks lingua football and there's nothing to do, as all TV sets have been monopolised by football fans. The only option is to join in the frenzy and go green and yellow or blue and white. In the event of a match between the two favourites the peace loving can only pray it ends in a draw. Then we can all go 'Waka Waka' home.


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