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Two soccer teams watched by the world


Millions of people around the world were transfixed in recent weeks as they watched the television accounts of the World Cup, and of 12 boys and their coach in a cave in Thailand.

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The contrast between the winning World Cup team France and the Thai boys’ team Wild Boars is obviously striking. The story of one is about glory, and the story of the other is, in its own way, about salvation.

It is fascinating how such events capture human beings of all descriptions. More than 250,000 people came out on the Paris streets to rejoice when France won, and more than 20 million French people watched the match on television.  More than 700,000 Australians viewed it, despite being broadcast live in the early hours of the morning.

The salaries paid to international soccer stars are obscenely large, with some earning millions of Euros. What is earned as a team would supersede the income of several smaller nations. The French Football Association will receive $38 million from FIFA as a bonus for France winning the World Cup and much of that will go to individual players who will have already received $US350,000 for winning the grand final. On top of this they now have been given the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest accolade. It might sound small-minded of me, but why such an accolade for gifted athletes doing what they are very well paid to do?

Certainly, they had to live the tension of carrying the expectations and hopes of all France for a successful outcome in their match with Croatia. And there was individual generosity – each player is to give something to charity, and 19-year-old star Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele are giving all their winnings away.

By contrast, the Thai boys and their coach were not paid millions; rather, millions were spent upon their rescue by the Thai Government and others. They were not given the Legion d’Honneur or its Thai equivalent, but the three or four stateless boys, living in Thailand but not citizens, were given citizenship.  The tension the boys endured is hard to imagine; several days in the dark in a subterranean cave with water rushing by, and the boys not knowing whether anyone would find them, and the real likelihood that they would perish. We all saw the courtesy and refinement of their thanks when discovered, and their broad smiles.

The World Cup team had to play for less than two hours, enduring the tension of what the final result might be. The Thai boys had their several days of isolation, and then the alarm of learning they would have to dive underwater for a long distance in the dark, even though they had never done that before.

The fruits are joy and jubilation, along with national pride, for both. With the Thai boys, there is the hope and warmth of the human spirit that filled millions of hearts when the rescue was accomplished, along with sad gratitude for the life of the Thai Seal who died trying to help them. For the Thai boys and their coach their rescue was almost like a resurrection, out of the jaws of death.

Both teams were responsible for extraordinary international efforts, and helped unify people across the globe, but in their simplicity and endurance, and the hope and joy engendered, the Thai boys were the victors for humanity.

May the harmony between nations that the World Cup can engender, and the wonderful international cooperation and human joy of the rescue of the Thai boys, bring something strong and worthwhile for the human spirit. It was humankind, created in the image and likeness of God, performing at its best.

Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Apostolic Administrator Archdiocese of Adelaide, Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese



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