Thursday, 29 January 2009

Worship at the Church of Maradonna

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Last year, when I was writing a piece for New Humanist to coincide with the Olympics, I became somewhat wary of making big comparisons between sport and religion. "I'm tired of reading banal arguments based on something being a bit like something else," one sociologist warned me. Another sociologist (it must have been sociology season) explained that sport does resemble religion, but only in a Durkheimian sense.

I was reminded of this while reading this article in the Metro on the tube this morning, as the 120,000 members of La Iglesia Maradoniana, the Church of Maradonna, seem to have adopted sport as religion in far more than a Durkheimian sense. This congregation quite literally worship Diego Maradonna – Argentianian legend, contender for greatest footballer of all time (okay, so maybe Pele was the greatest and Maradonna the most "naturally gifted"), and he of the "Hand of God".

Of course, it's hard not to view the whole thing as a joke, although the congregants claim it's 100 per cent serious. The Church's headquarters is in Maradonna's home town of Rosario, 300km from Buenos Aries. They meet up properly twice a year – for their Messiah's birthday and on the annual anniversary of the 1986 World Cup quarter final defeat of England (perhaps unsurprisingly, the Church has 1,500 Scottish members) – and they have a set of Ten Commandments, one of which is, quite brilliantly, "Do not mention the name Diego in connection with any one club".

At the meeting the Metro reporter attended, the congregation was even treated to a telephone message from the man himself, taking time out from his new job as Argentina national coach, who declared that "God will be with us again and He will give us another victory like 1986."

So is it for real? The co-founder, HernĂ¡n Amez says so: "Religion is about feelings and we feel football. I've been doing this for ten years now and it's not just a bit of fun, it's a religion."

Which brings me back to Durkheim. The sociologist I met with last year explained how sport can be seen to resemble a religion when it leads to "collective effervescence", and it seems there's plenty of that to be had at La Iglesia Maradoniana.

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