Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lessons from the World Cup part II: "Rules of the Game"

When FIFA comes to town, they sorta take over. Locals here joke that we're living in the "Republic of FIFA" during this month of the soccer World Cup. The football federation insists on strict control over ticket sales, marketing, merchandising and more around the tournament. They take a zero-tolerance attitude and have established special "World Cup" courts that sentence offenders with lightning speed (something we're not used to in SA). 

This fixation with rules and compliance got me thinking. Imagine what would happen if a group of concerned individuals approached FIFA with the following:

"A professional soccer player will header the ball regularly during his career. Preliminary studies show that the force of the ball hitting a player repeatedly on his head may cause brain damage. We propose changing the rules of the game to allow players to use their hands to deflect the ball, rather than butting the ball with their heads. We are confident that the game will remain as exciting as always, and the players won't harm their health."

It's unlikely that FIFA deign to respond to such a suggestion. If they did reply, they'd probably say something like this:

"Thank you for your concern. Soccer is a game where the players traditionally use their feet, chest and heads to control the ball. A player may not use his hands during the game (with the exception of the goalie, of course). If you wish to play a sport where you control the ball with your hands, we recommend that you join a Volleyball league. Or, should you wish to invent a new game where players may use their hands instead of their heads to control the ball, go ahead. Just ensure that you don't call such a game soccer, because it is not soccer."

FIFA would have no qualms about telling us that soccer follows age-old, non-negotiable traditions. 

Judaism's traditions are older (and more meaningful) than soccer's. Well-meaning people sometimes try to change the rules of Judaism to suit modern needs. To them we say, "If you want to invent a new religious protocol, be our guests. Just don't call it Judaism, because Judaism played by a new set of rules is simply not Judaism."

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