Thousands must have seen it at the stadium where the match was played. Millions like me must have watched it on television that evening. The match continued and then followed an investigation into the biting incident. FIFA, the world body responsible for the tournament, gave its verdict: a nine-game international ban, a four month suspension from all football. All this with immediate effect. Strangely, the possible selling of the talismanic forward from his present club to another buyer for £ 80 million during this exilic period was not precluded in the judgement! Commercial deals could continue for his transfer even while the player concerned was undergoing the penalty which, according to some, would seem to reflect how much money really does matter today even in the world of sport. A veritable tsunami of views ensued. There were pros and cons. Some approved of the punishment imposed since it was not the first time that the player had thus conducted himself; others condemned the verdict as an orchestrated press and political mafia attempt to blow out of all proportion the incident and make a worldwide scapegoat of a player who had contributed not a little to the game. He, who was voted by the Footballer Writers’ Association as the Footballer of the Year just a month back from the incident, was now given the boot. Popularity is as precarious as a bubble. Just one slight puff and it is all over! Even the victim of the biting incident considered the verdict excessive as it would isolate the player concerned and condemn him to exile.
As he flew back to Uruguay, “kicked out” with disgrace and disgust of the tournament as was reported, he received a rapturous reception at the airport on arrival. Even the Uruguayan President was there to receive him but had to leave since the incoming flight from Brazil had been delayed and he had another pressing engagement. As I pondered the incident myself, a host of thoughts came to mind. I thought of that first bite when the forbidden fruit was eaten and shared and the misery it brought to the whole of humanity. It was indeed a very costly bite for it stigmatised every baby that would be born. I remembered the fiery serpents that bit the Israelites in the wilderness with a deadly sting because of the people’s infidelity and how God had Moses set up on a standard the bronze serpent, a mere look at which brought healing and restored life. I recalled Another Scapegoat Who not only did no wrong but took upon Himself, and even more, took away, the sins of the world, remaining dumb like a lamb that is sheared and sent to the slaughter house. I thought of the rousing reception that the sinner receives every time he repents and returns to God for there is greater joy in heaven when one sinner repents than over ninety-nine who have no need of repentance. God seems to have got his mathematics wrong. The sinner’s offence is not merely swept under the carpet but completely washed away. He is given a carte blanc, not a red card, and welcomed once more with joy as he re-enters the community of God’s people and love.
As I continued to ponder this biting incident, I became more deeply aware that in all of us, starting with myself, there is a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde. Even the said player’s club colleagues admitted that off the field he was a different person altogether. Is there not the best in the worst of us and the worst in the best of us? We do the things we do not want to do and do not do the things that we ought to do. I pondered that mad moment that we all know takes hold of us when we cannot understand why we have conducted ourselves in the way we did. We remain a mystery to ourselves; much more, then, a mystery to others. I thought of how God, Who alone knows us through, our rising and our resting, neither judges nor condemns us. He understands us. I pondered how difficult it is to strike that delicate balance between justice and mercy and how important it is for justice to be remedial rather than retrogressive. The mind seems more inclined to justice; the heart, to mercy! As I pondered that biting incident, my heart was filled not with condemnation but compassion particularly because the offender acknowledged his fault and tendered an apology!
The match was over. The result declared. The inquiry was pending. The margin of victory or defeat for me was not important. The lesson I learned from the biting incident was; as it remained deeply etched in my memory. And as I retired for the night I pondered. Nature never forgives. If I hurl myself out of the topmost storey of a tall skyscraper, and on my way down in mid air, regret and repent of my moment of madness, the laws of gravity will neither change nor be suspended. I will for sure come crashing down to my death. Human beings sometimes forgive. Have we not experienced forgiveness from others whom we have offended? Have we not also known persons who have never forgiven us but still continue to hold on grudgingly to the bites of the past? But God always forgives! No matter how many, often and prolonged are my moments of madness, the moment I repent, He relents. There is no inquiry, no judgement, no verdict and no exile. All is forgiven. All is forgotten! And with that, I felt His loving arms embracing me and lulling me to sleep.