Having just endured another weekend in which my son flicked from one college game to another on Saturday and channel hopped the pro games on Sunday, I sometimes wonder what would happen if football suddenly disappeared. I don’t think we would have baseball year round and basketball is too indoor a sport for the macho and nacho masses with apparently nothing to do on fall weekends. Of course, American football will not disappear as long as high school and college men have a forum to beat each other within limits (on pain of 15 yard penalties) and bear the manly marks of pain and showboat half way across the field for daring acrobatics. But our Rugby-derived version of the world’s most popular sport is no match for the millions worldwide who follow what we think is soccer and they think is real football (i.e. a foot hitting a ball instead of one body with pads bashing into another body with pads).

Imagine if this culturally transmitted and universally acclaimed sport suddenly lost all its spectators. What if the team showed up with their Nike endorsements and flourescent Gatorade bottles to empty stadiums? Well, you do not have to. Welcome to Lebanon, where the government has banned public assembly in football stadiums, but the game goes on. A recent report on Al-Jazeera chronicles the fan-less status of Lebanese football. And if you want irony, or even if you do not, Lebanese football is being kept alive by religious organizations. Feeding the soul has merged with protecting the feet of athletes. The God of Abraham has become the God of goals. Before long we may be back to gladiator days, when Hizbullah will send its standard bearers into the arena against the Phalangists, and the Druze will square off against the Maronites. It might be a welcome relief to the bombings and rhetoric of hatred that rip apart any semblance of normality in a country which has never really known what being normal means, except outside Lebanon. The problem, now, is that Lebanon does not seem to have a sporting chance.

Daniel Martin Varisco