Enthusiasts and even those who prefer to jump on the soccer (or football) bandwagon every four years anticipate this epic event with painted faces and flag capes. For one month the evening news, sports sections, and websites around the globe hum loudly with the buzz of the World Cup (or is it all of those vuvuzelas?) Regardless, so much excitement over some athletes kicking a ball around the field for 90 minutes may seem shallow, especially during a time in which our economy is struggling, the environment suffering, and global violence rampant. However, this could be just what the world needs right now.

Rivalry for the 2010 FIFA World Cup began long before the top teams met in South Africa this June. Instead tensions between countries can be traced back to 2004 when South Africa was awarded the 2010 FIFA World Cup bid. Similar to the Olympics, countries must bid to host the World Cup. FIFA has a policy of rotating continents to award the distinct honor; South Africa beat out its African neighbors, Morocco and Egypt.

Qualifying rounds between national teams to get the chance to represent their country in South Africa were fierce. Countries in six world regions battled it out for 32 spots in the World Cup tournament. During these games regional competition ran high – fights, riots, and vandalism were not unusual. Old rivalries were displayed – even if they had nothing to do with soccer. At the Chile/Bolivia qualifying game I remember laughing to the Chilean’s taunt that went something like, “¡No pueden saltar y tenemos tu mar!” Roughly meaning, “You can’t jump and we have your ocean”, the chant referred to the 19th century war between Chile, Bolivia, and Peru in which Chile acquisted Bolivia’s cost. Chile won that game 4-0 (ouch).

And all this was before the opening ceremonies on June 11! How could all of these fanatics traveling thousands of miles to cheer their teams on come together without some animosity ensuing. Well, they probably can’t. What fun would a tournament be without a little bit of rivalry or team mocking? But the truly special thing, I think, is the thought that for the past two weeks millions of people around the world have stopped what they were doing for a few hours a day – whether it be eating dinner with family, working in the office, or sleeping (this World Cup has been especially tough on us in E.D.T.) to watch a game – a good old fashioned game between incredible athletes from around the world. This camaraderie is not absent on the field, either. Yes, teams have received their fair share of yellow cards (and red cards!) this tournament – however, it is also quite visible when players from opposing teams help each other up from a bad fall or go over to make sure the other is ok, even if they don’t speak the same language the message is obvious. The act of exchanging jerseys at the end of the game is another symbol of respect and amity between players.

Yes – we must acknowledge that on July 11 there will be only one winner (and sadly for us U.S. fans, it will not be us). However, this doesn’t mean that the 2010 World Cup was not a success. If anything it brought together millions of people for one month; but not to discuss serious issues of recession, climate, and terrorism as any form of global cooperation has come to imply. Instead we all came together to watch a game, root for our home team, and heckle the bad calls by the referees (especially this World Cup, huh?) If anything, hasn’t the World Cup shown how very much alike we all are? Let’s hope that this feeling of unity lasts beyond July 11.