By: Arushi Sharma
Edited By: Dave Talmage
It’s football, not soccer! Ask any one of the 200 million people in Brazil who live and breathe by the sport. The BBC has hailed football to be the most played sport in the world. Reports confirm that there are about 260-million registered “players” and more than 3.5 billion fans worldwide.
According to the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) census, Brazil is the second largest Christian country in the world (after the United States), with almost 78 percent of the population declaring Christianity as their religion in 2005.
There has always been a historical and symbolic relationship between religion and sports, especially football, says Dr.Richard Guilianotti, head of the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University. Guilianotti’s research focuses on sports, globalization, popular culture, qualitative research methods and social theory.
According to Guilianotti the modern game of football is said to have replaced religion as the institution that binds people together. Giving rise to states of emotional elation previously associated with religious ceremonies.
Religion and The All Mighty Football
“Soccer is life here,” said Vinicius Pereira, a student in Brazil who claims he’s been playing football for as long as he can remember. “It is like religion. The feeling of absolute… joy you feel when you make that goal is almost spiritual.”
Pereira is a Roman Catholic and claims in Brazil it’s not uncommon to find churches praying for the local team. “My priest… when Sport Recife (the local football club in Recife) was playing for the Brazil Cup in ’08, that Sunday we spent almost 15 minutes just praying for our victory,” said Pereira.
A longstanding popular Mexican Catholic tradition on Candlemas, which marks the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, involves people dressing up a baby Jesus figure as a saint before presenting it for a blessing at their church.
But in Brazil, it is common to dress up Jesus in one’s favorite football jersey. “When the World Cup was on, there were so many Jesus’ with Brazil jerseys on, it was crazy!” said Pereira. “The issue comes when after the games people tend to either take them home, or throw them away… that’s the part I don’t like.”
Religion On The Field
Religion is still a key influence on many of Brazil’s most prominent football players. Deep personal faith carries players like Brazilian midfielder, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (better known as Kaka), who has always been extremely open about being a devout evangelical Christian.
Kaka’s high-profile commitment to his religion could serve as good news for church leaders. It’s thought that the identification of Kaka and his faith may be useful to religious leaders seeking to attract football’s youth.
When Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Benedict’s successor, created The Clericus Cup in 2007, an international tournament for priests and seminarians, he stated he would aim at creating a Vatican City team to take on the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan. However, even Bertone would not argue that the stated aim of “reinvigorating a sporting tradition within the Christian community” is better served by Kaka and his T-shirt proclaiming “I belong to Jesus” or “God is faithful” stitched on to the tongues of his boots. However, FIFA has rules specifically banning players from making personal displays of religious or political nature. They have also sent a warning letter to the Brazilian football federation reminding them of the rules.
The correlation between football and religion is yet to be determined in Brazil but some students like Pereira feels the two are intertwined. “I’ve seen so many people here who say football is their religion,” Pereira said. “I mean the game gives them more than the religion ever did.”