[ed. Kazue Daikoku, the publisher and editor of "Happa-no-Kofu," was very gracious and generous to share her sensitive thoughts last April about the natural disaster that befell her beloved country. She's also translated in Japanese the short story by Bashir Sakhawarz, "A Night In Delhi", which you can see on her splendid and immaculate Web site.]
(Swans - December 5, 2011) Swans Commentary is based in the U.S., so perhaps most readers are Americans. But since it is published on the Web, and though the language is English, I presume there are readers of many nationalities who may be interested in football (i.e., soccer) from different cultural aspects. Recently, when I watched CNN World Sports on TV, I noticed that they constantly broadcasted news about European football leagues. I heard that there are few football fans in the U.S. because they prefer American football, basketball, and baseball to football. But CNN World Sports is viewed by more than 200 million households around the world, so it may not pertain to the viewers of the country that broadcasts it. But still, I felt it was interesting to see the international sports news broadcasted by the U.S.
This summer, Manchester United and Barcelona, who were both finalists of the Champions League last season, had a summer tour in the U.S., playing a match in which this time the loser of the Champions League (Manchester United) won. Furthermore, in recent years there have been some star European players who went to America to spend the rest of their seasons in Major League Soccer (MLS): David Beckham of Los Angeles Galaxy, Thierry Henry of New York Red Bulls, etc. Perhaps football fans in America will finally increase in numbers.
That said, football has the biggest population of players, supporters, TV watchers, from children to adults, on earth. I think it is the most influential sport of all, and the simplest one as well. You do not need anything when you play football, just several players and a ball; if you don't have a ball it's okay to just roll your sock up into a ball and let the game begin.
I am a football fan, even if that means just watching games on TV. I have been only once to the stadium in Japan; however, I've seen and enjoyed football since the 1998 World Cup in France. That year was Japan's national team's first appearance in the World Cup after many years of struggling, and we were able to see some of the games on TV. But it was just an opening, a chance for me to start watching football.
I'm not about to write on Japan's national team -- to be honest, though I was born and raised in Japan and live there now, I've not attached to the team, "our" team. If you are Japanese and a football fan you are supposed to be a fan of the national team, which I guess 95 percent of the nation is (except half a million Korean residents in Japan). But actually there is no relation between being a football fan and being a patriot. I admit there is some feeling for most people, who tend to attach to their own country when they watch sporting events like the Olympics. But I think it is not the essence nor nature of sports games at all. Some people say sports are a kind of war, or have some aspects of war. I don't agree with that, especially at the present time, in the 21st century. Sports are more open-minded and have more possibilities than we have previously thought.
I think sports have a lot of aspects we can deeply ponder, but football or soccer has some particularly meaningful points, because football has been played all over the world, from the richest countries to the poorest ones, from Christians to Muslims, from communists to capitalists. Football has been accepted by all kinds of people on earth for a long time. As I suggested above, that is because it is a very simple sport that you can do anywhere if you have just a ball or a ball-like thing. I was surprised when I read a story of Sudanese children in refugee camps. The children, around ten years old, were playing football in the refugee camp despite not having enough to eat and in circumstances in which some children died of starvation or disease. What does it mean? I think playing football relates to an instinct of human beings, or it must be at some place that is very close to our instincts. We eat, sleep, breed, and play.
My favorite football team is the Korean national team. I like their playing style and fighting spirit, as well as the few skillful players. When they play against the Japanese team, of course I have cheered for the Korean team. And I also like the American national team. They always play well, and some players like Landon Donovan have a very strong heart and often play impressively. At the World Cup in South Africa, Donovan touched our hearts by his incredible go-ahead goal against Algeria in the injury time of the second half. America needed to win this game to go through the group league, so his goal was the most valuable one. I knew his play when he had been on loan to the English Premier League Everton. He played very well and was much loved by the Evertonians. He returned to the American club after three months, leaving English fans some regret at the loss of him to the team.
After seeing two World Cups (1998 and 2002), I got to see European club games, especially the English Premier League. Their play is among the highest quality of football in the world, and the league is distinguished by having many foreign players, not only from European countries, but from African countries like Ghana, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, and Senegal; South American countries like Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Uruguay; North American countries like America and Mexico; Middle East countries like Turkey, Iran, and Israel; and a few Asian players, including Koreans. Though in recent years it has been gradually changing, until this point other European big leagues like La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy), and Bundesliga (Germany) are more domestic, with perhaps on average 60 or 70 percents of players in a team being a national. But in the English Premier league, for instance, in Chelsea FC (the second place team of the last season) there are only several English players of 25 players on the first team, and the coach is Portuguese. Arsenal (4th last season) has four English players out of 31, and the coach is French. Even lower-ranking clubs like Wigan (16th) has only several English players out of 29, while Bolton Wanderers (14th) has 19 English players of 36, which is supposed to be the largest number in the league, except for the three clubs promoted this season from the lower-level league.
For me it is really exciting to see the games played by the teams that have a variety of nationalities, races, and cultures. It is like a kind of World Literature. The players have their own origin, native language, unique culture, and homeland, but they do football as a high-disciplined team when they play in the match. There is no border of nationalities and religions among them. That's the kind of futuristic and perfect scene we can't see easily in the "real" world. In the economic world, global companies have increased, of course, and multinational workers are employed and work together. But in football games we can watch and study human blending one by one more closely, as more instinctive behavior.
Having foreign players on teams may have increased and spread a lot of fans across the earth. For instance, Ji-sung Park, a South Korean player who has played in Manchester United for several years, must have pulled in the fans of his country to the English Premier League, and Javier Hernández, a young Mexican player who played from the last season in Manchester United, also had lots of fans in and out of his country after he began playing in this big club. There are some fans in the stadium that are raising their national flag of Mexico or wearing a big Mexican hat. It seems that they are really proud of him.
The players on transnational teams sometimes have a chance to compete against players from the same homeland on other transnational teams. Also, in international games like the World Cup they often meet colleagues from their club as an enemy team player -- in some situations a close colleague; in other situations the biggest enemy. That's very interesting to see and thrills me.
For a goal performance, players sometimes do their own celebration with each other and to the supporters; they dance, loop the loop, make a cradle with their hands and rock it to celebrate the birth of colleague's baby. I remember well the Senegal players in the 2002 World Cup held in Korea and Japan. They played very well and progressed to the top eight for the first time. Each game, they gathered at the corner of the pitch and danced in a unique (African) way when they got a goal. That was very impressive to me. I got to know then that football was an open-minded, enjoyable, and intelligent sport, and I was happy to meet it and share the enjoyment with other people in the world.
Maybe I am attracted by the scenes in which people can easily change their position, cross over the border, game by game. That's all just a game, playing, pleasure; there are no serious nor urgent matters. But we may be able to see something in there to imagine a future world. I am always moved by the statement of anti-racism that is declared by the captain (sometimes the star player) of each national team of the best eight of the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup. It is done before the match, and it might be just a kind of ritual -- I don't know why FIFA decided to do and when they started it. Even so, whenever I listen to their statements, the players' own words against racism, some in a monotone voice and some speaking wholeheartedly, in front of stadium and TV audiences around the world, especially in front of children, it seems enough meaningful and valuable and it is very moving to me. I believe that something good will remain in the hearts and minds of children with the experience of these exciting and amazing games.
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About the Author
Kazue Daikoku is the publisher and editor of a nonprofit Japanese Web Press, "Happa-no-Kofu," which means "leaf miner" in English (an insect larva that lives and feeds within a leaf). Happa-no-Kofu specializes on bilingual (Japanese-English) publications both on the Web and in print on demand. Daikoku writes in the site's about page, "We value the uniqueness of each individual's ideas. We support the individual's power and energy, and believe that our activity on the Internet helps international communication on an individual level." She is also a translator from English to Japanese. To learn more about her (and see a picture of her), please read the 2007 interview she gave for Červená Barva Press. Kazue Daikoku lives in Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo, Japan. (back)