Let’s remember first, without shame, the best of this World Cup: magnificent matches; the fraternisation of the players after the final whistle; light emotions offered to peoples often living very difficult destinies; subjects of passionate conversation between relatives, friends, strangers; a large part of the planet gathered together; poor countries triumphing over billionaire teams (long live Morocco!); a renewed awareness of the unity of the planet, of the possibility of being happy together, of competing without hatred.
But that’s it, it’s almost over; and when the last two countries in competition have finished with the futile passions of a charming but objectively derisory show, when the players have been properly celebrated on their return, we should be able to talk about something else.
We could first review the human and financial cost of this event, the workers who paid the price with their lives, the ecological scandal that it represents, the violation of human rights that had to be ignored in order to find pleasure in it. One could protest a posteriori against the depoliticisation that led to the anthems of the most bloody regimes on the planet being played without flinching, in the same respectful silence as for those of democracies; as if sport could create a hypocritical equality between tyrannical regimes and free countries; between countries where women have the same rights as men and others where they are locked up, martyred and raped.
We could take a serious look at what else happened during those weeks: some formidable scientific promises, such as the first successful experiment in civilian energy obtained by fusion, which gives us hope that in a few decades’ time, we will have clean and free energy. We could admire the spectacular results of the most recent trials of anti-cancer vaccines. We could look in detail at the dizzying new version of ChapGPT, which allows for extraordinary literary and journalistic feats, and gives us hope for great simplifications in tertiary work; and so much other good news that has gone unnoticed.
We could also rediscover and really take seriously the ecological issues that we are facing and that we have delightfully put aside (do we even know that this week, people had to leave islands that were definitely uninhabitable?) We could think of those who are dying, raped, hanged, murdered, in Iran, in Ukraine, in the DRC; of the women who are mistreated all over the world; of all those people who have to take the risks of dying at sea or on the road, because life is impossible at home. To all the victims of accidents at work. To the scandalous concentration of wealth that gives a few families more power over the world than most states. To ignorance, which corrodes young people who are deprived of an education.
We could then at least divide humanity into two categories: those who have political security and the means to entertain themselves and those who cannot escape their misfortune, even for an hour and a half.
We could think about all this and get down to business next Monday. But this is not what will happen: I have no illusions that once this cup is over, once the players have returned and celebrated, we will naturally move on to New Year’s Eve and other festivities. And among the gifts will be video games, which will allow so many people to spend even more time distracting themselves, not seeing. And then there will be the Rugby World Championships, the Olympics, and so many other reasons not to worry about serious things.
We should think, however, about the reasons why we all put small pleasures before big worries, why we constantly look for reasons to look away from what threatens us instead of facing it. We have known these reasons since at least Blaise Pascal: entertainment makes us forget our intolerable mortal condition.
But now it is more serious: it is not just each of us who is likely to die. It is humanity that is threatened with extinction. If we continue to move from one distraction to another, there won’t be a football World Cup in 2050, or anything else of lesser importance.
Painting: The Romans of Decadence, Thomas Couture, 1847