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The Beautiful Game in an Age of Terror

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Soccer and the struggle for the soul of the world.

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

sThe scenes coming out of Paris this weekend were devastating. More than 100 people lost their lives in one of the largest terror attacks ever on French soil. While the majority of the victims were in a concert hall, soccer was not immune to the violence.

Three explosions could be heard during the France-Germany game on Friday night. A ticket-holding terrorist detonated his suicide vest after being stopped at the security checkpoint outside the Stade de France. His intended target was a stadium that included the President of France as one of the spectators. Suddenly, a friendly game became a place of violence and death.

Now there is word that the Belgium-Spain friendly is being postponed over security concerns.

What Kind of World Will It Be?

As we struggle to make sense of the violence perpetrated in cities around the globe, we must ask ourselves, "What kind of world do we want this to be?" Will it be dominated by terror? Will we respond in our grief by demonizing the "other"? Will we close ourselves off from refugees fleeing similar violence every day for the past 4.5 years?

There is a struggle for the soul of the world. There is a struggle for the soul of soccer.

What Kind of Game Will It Be?

Soccer will never rise above the level of the people who play it and watch it. As the world's most popular sport, soccer has the potential to unite a divided world. It can cross national and ethnic lines to put on a display of brilliant artistry and skill. It can bring together communities around a common cause and tie them with bonds thicker than blood. Terrorists know this, which is part of why they choose matches as strategic points of attack.

But soccer also has the power to divide. It can bring out the worst in us as a society. What will the future of soccer be?f Will it unite or divide us?

Not There Yet

For all the potential for good that there is in soccer, there is still much work to be done. The game can be devastatingly good in one moment (Messi vs. Boateng), and then despicably horrible in the next (Blatter and Qatar). The game we've come to love has both light and dark sides. And like the world we live in, we don't yet know which will win out.

Racism

Soccer bodies around the globe have been on a campaign to end racism in the sport. From on the field incidents to fans in the stands, leagues around the world are striving to put an end to racism. And yet, even among the best, there is a recognition that all is not right in the sport:

"Basically, if I score, I'm French. And if I don't score or there are problems, I'm Arab." - Karim Benzema

Corruption

FIFA and Sepp Blatter continue to be under corruption for the way in which soccer is run at a global level. As the Justice Department investigates and new elections are held, every fan's dream is to see the beautiful game run by a beautiful organization. It deserves no less. But O how far it has to go.

Exploitation

An estimated 4,000 workers will die by the time the first goal is scored in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The bidding process was tainted with corruption and the working conditions are killing workers at the rate of 12 per week.

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

What's the role of soccer when the soul of the world is at stake? The beautiful game can give us a fleeting glimpse into a world where things can be made right. Where players are not judged based on the color of their skin, but on the content of their play. Where corruption is rooted out and racism is condemned. Where workers are not exploited but are treated with the dignity they deserve. Where violence is not tolerated and triumph is celebrated.

Or soccer can be a place where corruption is encouraged and exploitation is overlooked. It can be yet another place where the powerful succeed at the expense of those on the margins.

If soccer wants to see the world become a better place, then it must become a better sport.

Soccer is a beautiful game. On the best of days it helps to make the world a little bit more of a beautiful place. May it help create a world without terror. Those who lost their lives this past weekend deserve no less from it.

#PrayForParis