In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star in the east and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.
The sixth time the camera cut to FIFA President Gianni Infantino–on his phone, always on his phone–I thought: There is King Herod.
King Herod is powerful, cunning, curious, insecure, throws great parties (sometimes with the decapitated heads of his enemies), and is perpetually a victim. Sure, he oversaw the deaths of a few hundred baby boys in Jerusalem (or a few hundred? thousand? migrant workers in Doha), but this was merely the necessary cost of progress.
King Herod is not, in fact, a very powerful king; he is the Jewish puppet king installed by and at the mercy of the Roman Empire. He is the representative of Julius Caesar. His job is to make the Roman Empire look both attractive and undefeatable. King Herod is simultaneously asserting power and abdicating it, and he plays this role very well, better than Infantino and his teen diary-esque monologue.
King Herod is frightened at the news of the child king. If there is a child in the world who is King of the Jews, then it means the delicate system Herod upholds is moot. If the Judean people do not need the Roman Empire, Herod’s wealth and dynasty collapse.
Imagine that a player arose from the margins of World Cup teams–Messi, Mane, Suarez, Marta, take your pick–and rose to prominence as the greatest player in the world to never play in a FIFA tournament. Imagine this talented player moved as a teen through a prestigious academy training, built a rabid fan following, then left abruptly to travel the world playing pick up soccer, teaching ball skills to impoverished teens and providing them with the food and healthcare to make their neighborhood tournaments as compelling as professional tournaments. Imagine all of it was free. Infantino would absolutely be releasing the snipers to protect his monopoly.
Throughout the Christmas story, watch how Herod chameleons from omnipotent tyrant to helpless middle manager. Watch how his attitude becomes a template for aspiring conflict-avoidant bureaucrats.
And another thing: when Infantino hunched over his phone, he was never “checking the scores of the other game,” as the announcers apologetically explained. He was checking on the comfort of those to whom he has pledged allegiance.
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