Football’s fair share

Global gathering a chance to confront inequality

Jun 22, 2015 by

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The beautiful (Mennonite) game is coming to the Mennonite World Conference assembly in Harrisburg, Pa. Teams of many cultures and languages will pass, shoot and maybe shove just a little bit around football matches July 22-25 in MWC’s first Anabaptist World Cup.

Football. That’s what the rest of the world calls it. Ready or not, assembly is intercultural.

However, in a divergence from Earth’s quadrennial sporting apex, MWC will clatter down from the Tower of Babel and construct teams with diversity of age, country and gender.

It’s a good idea not to take many cues from FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing body. Aside from Sophie Schmidt, a member of King Road Mennonite Brethren Church in Abbotsford, B.C., patrolling the pitch for the host nation in the Women’s World Cup, FIFA has few bright spots to offer this summer. The U.S. Department of Justice has brought indictments alleging fraud and corruption throughout the organization.

That isn’t to say there are not similarities. Both MWC President-elect J. Nelson Kraybill and FIFA President Sepp Blatter are bald. And neither organization distributes voting power based on how much money a member contributes.

MWC’s General Council allots to each conference one to three delegates based on membership. This gives Africa, with nearly 700,000 members, a stronger voice than Europe, with fewer than 70,000.

Superficially, FIFA’s governance is dramatically egalitarian. Population and wealth mean nothing. Each member nation gets one vote. However, that structure resembled a pyramid of questionable monetary transactions. Tiny, unstable states are easily swayed by a trickle from corporate sponsors. It’s what allegedly got Blatter re-elected mere days before he resigned as the indictments climbed higher.

An alternative suggested by statistician Nate Silver would cede 34 percent of voting power to four populous and wealthy states: the U.S., Japan, China and Germany. Such an approach might have avoided the slavery conditions and reports of more than a thousand migrant worker deaths as Qatar builds facilities to host the 2022 World Cup.

Thankfully, MWC doesn’t use either tactic. “Fair Share” formulas use a nation’s wealth to determine members’ suggested contributions to the MWC budget. Global North and South pricing balances out unequal buying power.

But those efforts go only so far. A spirit of servanthood at assembly is necessary to overcome power advantages gained from money, language, academic and other assets. Each MWC member brings gifts, but not all can be itemized by an accountant.

“At the moment your surplus meets their need,” wrote Paul to the church in Corinth. “But one day your need may be met from their surplus” (2 Cor. 8:14).

The Anabaptist World Cup is intended to showcase a diversity of age, country and gender, but also justice. It is an example FIFA seems to have missed.

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