Indeed, the whole world was watching. It was estimated that over 30 billion people watched one of the early rounds of this year’s World Cup soccer tournament held in Germany and well over half the world watched the final. In size and scope, this extravaganza dwarfs any other sporting event on earth. Supposedly 300 million more people watched the World Cup draw, where it is decided who will play whom, than watched last year’s Super Bowl.
Soccer (football to the most of the world) has been dubbed the beautiful game. The game features uninterrupted play on a green pitch (not a field) where the players dance, dribble and pass for ninety minutes while trying to kick a sixteen-ounce ball between two sticks and a crossbar. The game is simple, having only nineteen laws (they aren’t called rules in soccer). It is called the beautiful game because of the graceful, smooth and uninterrupted athleticism of the players, but also because of who plays the game. Poor kids play soccer in Rio as do children from Beverly Hills, Bombay and Barstow. As writer Franklin Foer puts it in the title of his book on globalization, Soccer Explains the World.
There was, however, an ugly side to this World Cup. The ugly side of the beautiful game was not Zinédine Zidane’s head butt against Italian defender Marco Materazzi with five minutes to go in overtime of the final match. Nor was it the ugliness of the Portugal-Netherlands match when Russian referee Valentin Ivanov issued 20 yellow and red cards.
The real and therefore far more disturbing ugliness of the tournament took place outside the soccer stadiums in Germany. You see, back in 2002 Germany legalized prostitution: its courts determined that the sex industry was not amoral issue. Ugly indeed. When the nation decided to call trading sex-for-money a pragmatic issue, the boundary lines of restraint were lifted and flesh was put up for sale.
This was a side of the festivities not covered by ABC and ESPN, but it was there. One Berlin brothel—Artemis—offers sex-for-Euro, twenty-four hours a day and boasts that its employees can service up to 605 clients at one time. In Cologne and Munich temporary brothels were constructed for World Cup tourists with sex huts behind a fenced-in area. And over 100,000 free condoms were distributed during the World Cup.
Of course all of this ugliness comes at the expense of the women who are exploited and abused by drunken tourists who pay to play. The numbers are staggering. Berlin has 8,000 registered prostitutes. Even before the World Cup, it was estimated that Germany hosted 15,000 women who were forced into prostitution. One guesstimate is that an additional 40,000 women were cajoled, smuggled, tricked, or duped into coming to Germany before the World Cup.
The mating of games with, well, mating, goes back at least as far as Roman times. Patrons of the Roman Coliseum were known to patronize young girls before and after the gladiatorial games—and this parallel ought to frighten us. Rome crumbled under her own excess. Increasingly, the elite employed slaves to cater to their every whim. No appetite was left unchecked by the Roman aristocracy. And the city crumbled.
Likewise, Europe today is crumbling under the burden of secularism. God has been dismissed from the public square and the center will not hold. When its foundations are removed, an edifice will not and cannot stand. Look carefully at the Europe of the beginning of the 21st century. The landscape has changed dramatically in the post- WW2 era. Women are choosing not to have children. Marriage has been jettisoned. Drug use is up dramatically. The newly written constitution of the European Union fails to mention God, or even a vague deity. As Dostoevsky put it more than a hundred years ago, When there is no God, everything is permitted. Ugly indeed.
And here we see one way that life imitates soccer. There aren’t really very many laws, but when those laws are broken, the game gets ugly. Perhaps the most basic law of life is what James calls the royal law of Scripture—You shall love your neighbor as yourself (James 2:8). Sex trafficking turns our neighbor into a commodity, a thing to be used and discarded. Sadly the practice is not confined to Germany or India or Vietnam. It’s in our own backyard. Worldwide, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked around the world each year. Almost 18,000 of these are trafficked in the US. Ugly indeed.
The Psalmist asks a question for our times, If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3) What can we do? We can pray and we can protest. We can pray for those caught in this web of destruction and ask that God would set the captives free. With Amos we should pray, Let justice roll down (5:24). But we should also protest the exploitation of women and girls. We should support organizations such as International Justice Mission along with the Salvation Army, the Beverly LaHaye Institute and Concerned Women of America. Each of these organizations works to provide justice and help to women trapped in prostitution. Lord God, help us help those who cannot help themselves.