- Darren Gold
The Beautiful Game
The heart-warming scenes of Japanese soccer fans cleaning up after their team’s victory over Germany is one more reason to watch the game that I grew up playing and one more small, compounding action towards building a better world.
The FIFA World Cup, a tournament showcasing soccer teams from 32 qualifying countries, occurs once every four years. This year’s tournament began last week, much later in the year than usual to account for the high summer temperatures of the host country Qatar. There have already been a handful of surprises with Argentina falling to Saudi Arabia and Germany to Japan. While most of the world’s attention has been focused on the excitement of the matches and the skill of the world’s best players, it has been the actions of the Japanese spectators that have captured the hearts of people all over the world.
Following their team’s 2-1 victory over Germany last week, Japanese fans were seen cleaning up the stadium, baffling much of the rest of the world. It is customary in most countries to store trash underneath stadium seats with the expectation that armies of people will clean up the stands at the conclusion of the game. The Japanese spectators, surprised at the attention they were receiving, commented that to clean up after oneself is a sign of respect and is a deeply engrained part of Japanese culture. “Atarimae”, which is the Japanese way of stating that something is obvious, was the common refrain from Japanese fans. One young man said something particularly beautiful: “Our heart is clean, so stands must be clean.”
It is often said that how you do anything is how you do everything. If I treat my home and my personal spaces with respect, I will do so everywhere I go. This is the power of culture. Actions are the natural and effortless by-product of values, the deeply held beliefs that an individual or society holds as true. As photos and videos of the iconic blue trash bags have spread, spectators from other countries have begun to follow the example of the Japanese fans. I, for one, will think twice the next time I attend a concert or game. This is the power of events that bring people from different cultures together. They remind us of our shared values and expose us to new ones. While this World Cup and other global sporting events have rightly received their fair share of criticism, it is hard to deny the role they play in connecting a world that is increasingly divided.
The cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I’m not sure cleaning up after a game will become the next “wave” phenomenon at sporting events. Nor is it likely to change the world, no matter how much we are in need of the kind of virtue that we witnessed at the hands of the Japanese spectators. But it is one more reason to watch the game that I grew up loving and playing. And one more small, compounding action towards building a better world.
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