Rooting for Hope …

What do you get when you mix groups of Palestinians, Americans, South Africans and a bunch of Europeans? Proof positive of the commonalities we all share as citizens of the world.

Residents in the Gaza Strip got a rare treat this weekend as home region favorites squared off against Italy in the inaugural match Saturday of the United Nations Development Programme-sponsored “Gaza World Cup” – running until May 15. (For the record, the Italians won 1-0.)

Football – or soccer as Americans usually call it – is the world’s game. A great equalizer. A sport with unrivaled global popularity that can – and does – see kids from the harshest megacity streets to impoverished rural villages reach for their dreams. (Yes, yes, cue the Ricky Martin muzak.)

But seriously, in a world where citizens are barraged by media images of guns, violence and vitriol spewed incessantly at “the other,” sometimes it’s hard to remember we are all a part of one great big family …  did I really just slip into “We Are the World” lyrics there?!?

Next month, teams from around the world will gather in Africa for the “real” World Cup – the FIFA event that draws players and viewers from across the globe. The Gaza games are unlikely to draw the kind of media coverage as the real deal – but the Gaza effort speaks to the heart of what sports should be: ingenuity and collective action.

The Cup grew out of a small friendly match between local and international friends last November and now features 16 teams. According to Gaza World Cup:

The world’s largest sporting event, FIFA’s World Cup, is traditionally the culmination of an ambitious global effort to unite the world through sport.  And to its credit, while convening 700 million spectators behind one final match is impressive, at the same time it must be acknowledged that not everyone is welcome to participate.  The Gaza Strip is one such case.  Due to its unique political status, “Gaza” remains one of the most isolated societies on the planet.

So, yeah, maybe I’m feeling a bit sentimental today. Maybe news of the oil spill fallout, nuclear non-proliferation treaty review, Congo massacre investigation and Yemeni child brides pushed me over the edge.

Maybe there are days when you find a shot of hope in a region normally associated with pain. … and maybe, just maybe, that means there’s hope for us all