As the world digs in for saturation coverage of the World Cup, the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia is highlighting research and resources to enable lovers and haters of the game to put aside their differences (including religious ones) and do something to make the world a fairer place.
Referring to the 'considerable opportunity' of Germany 2006, Ekklesia has launched a web compilation of responses to key issues which divide the world soccer claims to unite . And it provides links to campaigns and charities which are tackling them.
"Everyone customarily uses the World Cup to get people to buy something ñ souvenirs, beer, gadgets, even religion" said co-director Simon Barrow on Crossrhythms Radio today. ìOur emphasis is on making it easy for people who love football ñ and those who are trying to get away from it ñ to work for a common humanity.î
The 'Give Injustice the Red Card'  page highlights five key football focussed messages:
1. End sports-related labour exploitation
2. Tackle World Cup sex slavery;
3. Boot out economic inequality;
4. Send-off nationalist and religious aggression;
5. Support Fair Trade football.
The answer in each case, it says, is global vision and action.
Ekklesiaís ëAlternative World Cup Guideí especially draws attention to the Labour Behind the Label and Trades Union Congress report aimed at getting the 32 competing teams to insist their sportswear sponsors call time on replica kits produced in exploitative conditions.
It also publicises the Amnesty-backed campaign against forced prostitution (women are being sold for sex in Berlin booths as the tournament begins), CAFOD, Oxfam and Christian Aidís focus on economic inequality particularly in Africa (there are five African nations participating), and efforts to encourage global vision instead of violent nationalism and religion.
ìWe have deliberately chosen concerns in which football is part of the issue, and where people of different faiths and none can cooperate for a better world,î Barrow points out.
Ekklesia says the 'Give Injustice the Red Card'  page draws attention to concerns which may otherwise get kicked into touch by the World Cup media frenzy. It will also highlight stories about peace and justice related to football, and give people the chance to consider alternative Fair Trade goods during the tournament.
ìAs a Christian think-tank which promotes non-violence and reconciling perspectives on global concerns, we also wanted to demonstrate that religion doesnít have to be a dividing force ñ and that actions speak louder than words,î explains Mr Barrow
He adds: ìA variety of religious lobbyists will no doubt be using the World Cup to megaphone their promotional messages at others. Given the state of the world we think it might be a better idea to listen rather than to shout ñ especially to the voices of exploited workers, women and the poor who donít figure in soccerís celebrity circus.î
Ekklesia is also concerned to deploy theological arguments against the entrenchment of aggressive (often religiously-fuelled) nationalism, something which can be both reinforced and abated by sport. At the height of the EU Constitution debate, it co-published with Sarum College ëTowards the Abolition of the Nation State? í by Canon Richard Franklin.
Questions of statehood and identity are especially highlighted by the participation of Serbia-Montenegro as one team in the 2006 World Cup, since the two states ñ formerly part of Yugoslavia ñ ended a confederation this year, but are (at present) one football teams
On a lighter note, and in what it calls a ìminor concession to tackinessî, Ekklesia says it has also produced ëGive Injustice the Red Cardí mugs and T-shirts  to promote the web campaign. But it stresses they are tasteful, great value, and channel a percentage through to good causes.
[Also on Ekklesia: Give injustice the red card  Jun 9, 2006 An alternative World Cup guide for those with global vision; German churches to be peacemakers during World Cup , by Fran race; Fairtrade football - fair trade football gift ideas ; Christians and Muslims score a goal against soccer racism ; Will Baptist soccer bosses teach England's Sven about crosses? ; World Cup proves a football blessing to Iran ; Hallowed be thy game ]