In this assembly students are encouraged to consider the balance of rivalry and unity that is exemplified by the World Cup

Which colour of the rainbow will you be supporting in the World Cup?

Will it be red, the colour of the cross on the England team’s flag? Or perhaps you think the red of Spain will end up as champions through the goal power of David Villa and Fernando Torres?

Will it be the orange of the Netherlands, always top performers at international level? Van Persie is back to full fitness and raring to go after a long lay-off.

Golden yellow is the colour of Brazil, the world’s top exporter of footballing superstars. It’s very difficult to get in their squad, the standard is so high.

Green should have been represented by Ireland, but instead you may plump for Algeria, challengers in England’s group and a bit of a wild card.

Blue is for France, the team that crept through to the finals, courtesy of the dodgy Thierry Henry goal that eliminated Ireland. They’ll have a lot of support. It is also the colour of the team that won the last World Cup – Italy.

You may even fancy the very dark Indigo blue of the USA, whose players have brought sparkle to the Premiership this past season. They’re well organised and difficult to beat.

Surprisingly, there’s no team that’s chosen violet for their shirt. Pinkish purple doesn’t seem to fit on the football field, and ultra violet would make the players invisible, which may not be a bad thing after an embarrassing performance.

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet: the colours of the rainbow.

Why the connection between the World Cup and a rainbow, you may ask? It’s because the tournament is taking place in South Africa. That country was first given the name ‘The Rainbow People of God’ by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a number of interviews shortly after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, at the end of the racially divisive Apartheid regime in the country. Tutu was using the biblical idea of the rainbow as the symbol of peace that God gave to Noah after the flood had receded and left the Ark on dry land. The rainbow represented God’s promise that the earth would never again be devastated. Mandela himself took up the same image in his first major speech after release, describing South Africa as ‘a Rainbow Nation at peace with itself and the world’. (

Nelson Mandela linked together Tutu’s biblical image with the traditions of the South African Zulu and Xhosa tribes, who saw the rainbow as symbol of hope and a new future. Both Tutu and Mandela believed the end of Apartheid represented the beginning of a new era for the country. For them the rainbow symbolised the bringing together of the different races and colours into one nation.

That’s a powerful symbol. But there’s one thing wrong with it; it’s back to front. Tutu and Mandela envisaged a wide variety of different cultural and racial groups, who’d been divided for decades if not centuries, being brought back together to create one new whole. However, the colours of the rainbow don’t exist separately before being brought together in the unity of light. Light is everywhere, complete in its unity already. It requires an act of separation, by means of raindrops, as in the rainbow, or using a prism in a scientific experiment, to enable us to view each of the colours in their individual and distinct glory. The rainbow in actual fact is a symbol of division rather than unity as it demonstrates the individual colours separated from their whole.

So let’s get back to the tournament due to start in a few days. The World Cup will contain a lot of division. Supporters of each country will want their team to win and will parade team colours, sing team songs and wave national flags to show this. Hopefully the rivalry will be good-natured and the tournament marked by a sense of enjoyment of the spectacle of the world’s top players competing at the highest level. If the national team strips represent the colours of the rainbow, then it’s the common enjoyment of a game played well that is the united light. Supporters can sit side-by-side because of what they share, rather than what divides them. We are already linked by our common humanity and, during the World Cup, by a common love of the game of football. That unity of a myriad of different peoples would appear to be a truer use of the rainbow symbol.

So where do you stand on the issue of the rainbow of life in general? There are many ways in which society divides itself up, even at a local level: there is gender, age, race, colour, class, fashion, music, politics, tribe, language, where we live and many more. Each is like a distinctive colour within the rainbow spectrum and can appear to shine more brightly in certain circumstances.

Since teenage years are a time of establishing personal identity, it sometimes appears important to emphasise what makes us stand out, which can make the spectrum wider and more deeply divided. Yet the starting point lies within what we already share. Gender, age, race, colour, class, fashion, music, politics, tribe, language or where we live pale into insignificance when we’re faced with the big issues of life: birth, death, love, illness, the future. In these circumstances, it’s often surprising the way that differences melt away. We come to realise the powerful resources available to us when we are united.

Enjoy the World Cup, whoever you choose to support. Enjoy the spectacle and the skill. Enjoy being together with the whole community, letting the light of being human shine truly and clearly.

Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.

Dear GodI am who I am and proud of itI’m a member of the human raceI’m a friendI’m a supporterI’m part of a communityI’m part of this schoolAnd glad that more unites me with others than separates me from them


This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: Brian Radcliffe