Leaving the baggage at the turnstile was easier then. Even four years ago when Brasil — where the gap between wealth and poverty is as wide as the chasm between reality and an off-the-cuff remark from the president of the United States — hosted the 2014 World Cup.
If nothing else, maybe the desperate might pick up a few extra reals from generous or unsuspecting tourists, I told myself.
When in 2010 the World Cup was played in South Africa, whose ugly history of apartheid is legendary and the whispers of bribes in exchange for hosting duties turned out to be true, I took solace in the historical significance of the occasion: it was the first time the world’s beautiful game would be held on the African continent.
Try hard enough and you can find any political or socioeconomic reason to criticize a sporting event. Actually you don’t have to try hard at all. From what teams or countries represent socially to the obscene amounts of money paid to athletes playing games and the doubly obscene amounts of money advertisers pay to capture viewers’ attention, there is an apparent and abundant supply of reasons to be a hater.
But professional sports, like the arts and unsullied nature, provide an escape from the heaviness of the world’s bone crushing burdens. For 90 minutes, an afternoon or four weeks’ focus can be placed on the movement of a ball and adults’ responses to that ball’s trajectory. For psychological and emotional health, sometimes you have to embrace the silly distractions that interrupt the everyday din.
This time, however, getting my arms around that distraction is harder.
Some of that difficulty surely has to do with being older. Realizing there is a finite amount of time one has on this planet, you wonder if watching hours and hours and hours of sports is really the best use of a limited resource. It is sobering to realize I have less than 10 World Cups left to watch.
There is also the obvious influence of the World Cup host nation in 2018.
Russia and its influence on the U.S. elections and, subsequently, its current state of affairs, has been a focal point of national and international news cycles for the last two years at least. To be fair, Russia was awarded the World Cup long before the office of the president was polluted by a man whose presence emboldens racists and bigots nationwide to publicly act on their ignorance.
Combined with the host’s baggage and the fact that the opening game features them playing against a country where women are just this month earning the right to drive a car, getting excited about World Cup 2018 is more of a challenge.
But a reminder that the actual game played at the highest level is sublime, and during this world tournament, opportunities are plentiful to meet, cheer and commiserate among people of different cultures and not their government policies makes it a little easier to gradually put the heavy baggage down. For now.