The irony could not be more stark. Sitting above the lifeless body of one of the murdered players reads a sign, “Live Better.”
Yesterday in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, at a community center opened just four months ago as part of a program to decrease drug violence, two local clubs faced one another only to be interrupted by gunman. 180 rounds sprayed the grounds, resulting in the death of three people at the scene and another four en route to the hospital. Players and fans alike fell victim to this new round of violence, which leaves no one to spare.
The violence, just another chapter in one of the bloodiest cities in the world at the mercy of drug cartels, has unfortunately touched a part of society that for so long was a unifier. Yes, football has always taken the form of political advertising as the more violent factions of supporters carry out the ethnic and social prerogatives of politicians. However, at the same time and perhaps more so, football has been a peacemaker.
Years of American bombing, occupation, and diplomacy in Iraq couldn’t quell the sectarian violence and bring everyone willingly to the bargaining table. But Iraq’s win in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup did just that – Kurd, Sunni, and Shiite sitting side by side and embracing one another. Civil wars throughout Africa have usually taken short breaks for big football matches. And of course, the famous story of Christmas 1914 in the trenches of WWI.
What about drug cartels? They, in fact, have a very long history of funding football teams in South America. With meager wealth of local businessmen, drug lords seized the opportunity to spend their abundant piles of cash by investing in certain clubs. Columbia and Pablo Escobar are the prime example. As for terrorists? I can bet you my life savings that Osama Bin Laden is a bigger football supporter than most of you. And unless a Western power is participating in match, he would probably enjoy watching the action more than blowing it up.
Perhaps I’m too optimistic about the power and influence of this game. Although my gut tells me I’m not. History has proven all too often that football can bring people together, and serve as the only light in the darkest of places. Yet it appears that Juarez is too dark for any light. Marred in bloodshed and heartbreak.
Live better? I’m afraid not.
(Photo courtesy of CNN.com)