“You can change your home, you can change your country, you can even your wife, but you can never change your football team.”
- Barrie Goodridge, veteran of the publishing sector and former CEO of Edipresse Asia. In 1983, Goodridge joined Asiaweek, rising to the position of Publisher before leaving to join Global Sources Media Group. In 1997, he became the CEO for Asia of Publicitas Promotion Network (PPN), the international division of PubliGroupe. He joined Edipresse in 2004 as Regional Director for Asia and was later appointed CEO of Edipresse Asia in 2005.
“You can change your home, you can change your country, you can even your wife, but you can never change your football team.”
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Less than a year before the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and over one month after the final match of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver, BC, I would like to share and focus my reflections on the Women’s World Cup, mostly emphasizing the social psychology and sociological milieu around the match as it was extensively covered by all media.
“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ― Maya Angelou
In the past, I had the privilege of being present at multiple global sporting events around the world in many capacities, but I had never attended an event as a spectator until the final match between USA and Japan on Sunday, July 5 at BC Place Stadium. Women’s sport is very close to my heart as I had the privilege of managing my daughter’s junior and collegiate tennis career for almost ten years. Nevertheless, I was very excited to find myself in a new role as a part of the overwhelmingly American crowd of 53,341. On that day, a golden haze from wildfires blanketed the Province of British Columbia and Vancouver, BC, perhaps due to the 16-year US winning drought at the Women’s World Cup! However, during the 90 minutes of playing time and finishing strong with a winning score of 5-2, the US team extinguished the flames within the boundaries of the football pitch substituting golden smog with flashy golden confetti, a golden trophy, and gold medals around their necks at the award ceremony.
This summer has seen North America pleasantly packed with global sporting events. First we had the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, then the Pan-American and Parapan-American Games in Toronto. In between, there were the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, and coming in late September, the City of Richmond will be hosting the UCI Cycling Road Championships. One would wonder what these events have in common… The answer is relatively simple. In all of these events, female athletes play either the main role or a shared role as competitors. I am very cautious with the usage of the term “equal participation” as we hear some critics voicing their opinions. During and after the Women’s World Cup some complaints were raised about the artificial turf. Others complained that the opposing teams were staying in the same hotel, and that offensive comments about player’s appearances had been made. There were also comments about paltry financial rewards for women athletes as compared to the Men’s World Cup. But on the day of the final in the packed-to-the-brim BC Place, no one was thinking about these shortcomings.
Sport, and in particular football, can be used to promote health and development in many countries. However, large-scale sporting events like the football World Cup can have a detrimental effect on the environment and sustainable development. Can FIFA and other governing bodies use their immense influence and budgets to establish environmentally friendly practices?
“Sport is a powerful symbol which eliminates barriers and provides opportunities for rapprochement. It does not have the power to stop tanks, but is capable of bringing people together and can be an excellent platform to open up dialogue, unite people and build trust. Sport is a bond to make a positive change in the world.” - Wilfried Lemke, UN Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace
An ever-increasing number of leaders in sports as well as politics, business, education and even religion are starting to pay closer attention to how sports can be a tool to benefit humanity. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon emphasized the commitment of the UN System to promote sport as a tool for development – including using it to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
The game of football is a sport embedded in the lives of many people, communities, and economies. Often called “The Beautiful Game,” it is accessible to all. An estimated 265 million male and female players in addition to five million referees and officials make a grand total of 270 million people - or four percent of the world's population - that are actively involved in the game of football.
Football supports development in various ways as it generates income from sports-related sales and services that boost international trade. It also creates jobs, supports local economic development, enhances a country’s reputation, transcends national differences, improves health and social well-being, encourages teamwork, and most importantly it serves as a global communicator while speaking a world language for the sake of social good.
Today is the anniversary of the first World Cup, which was held in 1930 in Uruguay. Last Friday, almost 85 years later, the US Women’s Soccer Team was feted for their victory in a New York City ticker tape parade. A moment quite sweet to contemplate – I was surprised at how many people I saw tuning in and watching the final game.
The economic reality of women’s professional sports is not so sweet. According to PBS, the US Women’s soccer team got $2 million for World Cup win; German men got $35 million in 2014. That New York City ticker tape parade cost almost as much as the US Women’s winnings.
In an interview with the Guardian, Jerome Valcke, Fifa’s secretary general, has argued the men’s World Cup prize money pool is so much larger because the men’s tournament generates more revenue. The men’s World Cup “brings in $4.5bn direct to Fifa,” he said...But women’s soccer is newer, which means the women could be waiting a long time to earn a payout like the German men did last year.
Imagine a football team at the World Cup, just standing around the field watching as the other team breezes right past them and scores a goal. Without taking action to not only help the sick, but protect the healthy, then we, as global citizens, are letting Ebola win this game of life and death.
According to the World Health Organization, as of Nov. 9, a total of 14,098 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease have been reported in six countries. There have been 5,160 deaths. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have seen the highest number of cases.
The great-power G8 have been bickering about geopolitics, the economic G20 have been fretting about growth, and the aspiring G24 have been jostling for policy influence. But this summer’s ultimate contest in international relations has focused instead on the elite G32: the group of 32 countries that sent the world’s top-performing soccer teams to the final brackets of the World Cup tournament.
Global rivalries based on fine-tuned football finesse – not dominance in diplomacy or brute force on the battlefield – framed this summer’s highest-profile competition for international supremacy.
Amid the lengthening late-summer shadows that herald the final days before the September rentrée, thoughts of the midsummer marathon surely warm the memories of World Cup-watchers who recall the thrills of the June and July festivities before the JumboTron – with throngs packing city squares worldwide, as well as filling the World Bank Group's vast Atrium (and television hideaways all around the Bank) on game days.
By the time of the final match, even many committed fans of other national teams seemed to admit that, in the end, Germany deserved its hard-earned victory – winning 1-0 in overtime against resilient Argentina – thanks to the team's technical skills and tightly coordinated teamwork.
The tournament’s most dramatic highlights – the agility of goalkeepers Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico and Tim Howard of the United States; the spirited hustle of underdogs like Ghana and Croatia; the epic 7-1 shellacking suffered by humbled host-country Brazil; the heart-stopping offside call against Argentina that nullified an apparent final-match goal – will deservedly dominate fans’ conversations as they await the next World Cup spectacular. And videos of the overtime heroics of two substitute players – André Schürrle, who made a picture-perfect cross to Mario Götze, who seamlessly slid the ball from his chest-trap downward for a left-footed volley past Argentina’s goalie Sergio Romero – are destined to be replayed forever.
But before the fine details of Germany’s triumph recede in fans’ hazy memory, it’s worth recalling the long-range strategies it required for the new champions to envision winning the crown. The success of the Nationalmannschaft required even more than the midfield mastery of Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the exuberant playmaking of Sami Khedira, and the goal-scoring prowess of Thomas Müller. Along with disciplined precision on the field, Germany’s success was also driven by organizational skill on national planners’ drawing board.
A decade in the making, victory was patiently built through the Deutscher Fussball-Bund’s national plan that reportedly cost a billion euros or more – creating a coordinated national system of youth leagues, sports facilities, training regimens and individualized skill-building for players selected to advance toward the Bundesliga. Insightful long-range planning, born of adversity, paved the way to success: Germany’s football establishment realized that its system needed a sweeping overhaul after being soundly defeated in 2000, when Germany was knocked out of the European Championship without winning a single game. Germany had not won the World Cup since 1990, but the newly refocused German football system marshalled its long-term resources. After years of sharpening its competitive edge, Germany's hyper-efficient system has now earned the sport’s ultimate prize.
Football, the beautiful game, galvanizes people from young to old and North to South in a way that no other sport or entertainment can match. Last Sunday’s final was the most watched event in human history with an estimated 1 billion viewers (many of which, in South and East Asia, tuned in well into the night). What we experienced over the past four weeks has been described by some as the closest thing to a world religion: everybody watches it and worships it; everyone has an opinion and many believe that winning the World Cup is one of the greatest achievements a country can aspire to. No wonder that even the Popes seem to care. John-Paul II once pointedly said that “amongst all unimportant subjects, football is by far the most important.”
Even though I didn’t grow up watching football, admittedly I’ve developed an interest in the sport during this month-long emotional World Cup soap opera. And like me, millions of people will be glued to their television sets for this Sunday’s finals match between Argentina and Germany.
Above and beyond the superstars, the fans and controversies, I learned more about how this beautiful game is used to build communities, overcome social and cultural divides and advance peace. It seems sports have a way of changing the lives of people around the world - but what does this exactly look like?
The World Cup started in Brazil on June 12. This means that the next few weeks will be filled with anger, anguish, joy, and triumph. Sports fans have always been deeply emotional and obsessed… but also incomprehensible to those who ‘don’t get it.’ Why do fans paint their faces, dye their hair, or engage in bizarre rituals for good luck? Why do we still cheer for our teams despite corruption or other misdeeds?
Edward Hirt, a psychology professor at Indiana University in the US, has researched sports psychology, and he says, "As human beings, we have this desire to feel a sense of belonging or a sense of social connectedness with others, and being a part of different groups (gives) us identities." Scientists have shown that fans who feel personally invested in a team or who attend games and cheer with their fellow fans reap mental health benefits that come from feeling social connected.
Young men from four formerly war-torn African countries put years of conflict and hardship behind them last weekend as they played each other in the finals of the Great Lakes Peace Cup.
I did not expect Burundi to win, but they did! And what a beautiful victory it was. The team came from Bubanza, a small town about an hour north of Burundi’s capital Bujumbura. The players had journeyed more than 18 hours by bus, including about three hours to cross the border into Uganda.