This, of course, is nonsense. Soccer, like anything else, can be the basis for politics -- common interest is a valuable political tool. But soccer is not all that important a common interest. No long-lasting peace between two deeply divided groups will ever be built around soccer.
What of the idea that sports can, at the very least, provide a temporary respite from constant war-making? Sometimes it can -- but respites are not always desirable. A world fully distracting itself with sports is a world blind to more important things. A week's cease-fire during the Civil War would have meant another week of slaves in shackles. A week's cease-fire during World War II would have meant thousands of Jews sent to the ovens.
Glorification of sports above all else -- sports as unifying factor, bringing men together to celebrate our common humanity -- is an egregious misreading of the value of sports. Sports, at the end of the day, are entertainment. Sports may display our common DNA structure, but they surely fail to demonstrate our common humanity -- some humans are inhuman. Sports solve no great moral dilemmas. Sports are not politics.
Yet Sports Illustrated and ESPN say that sports transcend politics. One gets the feeling that had Sports Illustrated been founded in the early 1930s, rather than in 1954, it would have run feature articles describing the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany as a celebration bringing people together, transcending morality. Jesse Owens would have been portrayed as just another participant in a greater cross-cultural gathering, rather than a demonstrable proof of Nazi evil.
Then World War II would have broken out, and the editors of Sports Illustrated would have realized that good and evil remain, even after the medals are bestowed. That it takes more than running and jumping and throwing and kicking to unify us. That a soccer ball is no substitute for a common morality.