This may seem bizarre for me to write considering that the United States lost the Woman’s World Cup final to Japan on Sunday, but its’ something that just can’t be argued anymore. Sports have this tremendous ability to lift entire nations into states of pure joy, if only for a moment regardless of how bad reality is there. Japan has been in the grips of one of the world’s worst earthquakes on record, a tsunami that swept away thousands of bodies, many of whom may never be recovered, and a nuclear meltdown disaster that we may never know the full scope of. Yet for a little while, they could celebrate their woman’s soccer team who brought home the Cup in a great moment of
national pride. For a few fleeting moments, Japan wasn’t thinking about earthquakes, tsunamis, and failing nuclear reactors they where reveling in the hard fought well deserved victory for not just twelve woman, but an entire nation. The United States shouldn’t be discouraged because they captured the hopes and aspirations of a cynical America, again for a brief moment and in the process may have inspired the next generation of Abbies and Hopes.
Nor is this a phenomenon related to one game. South Africa playing host to the last World Cup opened itself up for global eyes. This was a huge deal for a country whose greatest claim to Western notoriety beforehand was the apartheid regime and its’ downfall in 1994, not exactly a legacy worth having. Serbia was known as the epicenter of a hideous three way genocide that the world is still trying to wrap its’ head around, until Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic became grand slam tennis champions after having grown up hitting balls in an emptied out swimming pool as bombs fell in other parts of the country, now thanks in large part to their success there has been an increased interest in the sport of tennis and within that interest lies the hope for a better future embodied in two national heroes, who serve as inspirations for a country still trying to recover from genocide.
Sports have the tremendous ability to unify a nation and distract them from the scourge of hard times. The United States took this comfort at the height of the Cold War at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic games when a team of scrappy upstart college kids found some way to best the Soviet hockey machine, transfixing most of the American population around their television sets as Al Michaels uttered the most iconic call in Olympics history “Do you believe in miracles” as the final five seconds ticked off the clock. For an America with an ailing economy having just left the miserable decade of the 1970’s, the victory provided an uplift and a tremendous shot of national pride for the country. Sports also has the potential to distract populations from political events on the ground. This was displayed most potently at the 2008 Olympic Games when two athletes from Russia and Georgia embraced for a worldwide audience as Russian tanks where marching through Georgia. Sports is a common language that humanizes even the most bitter enemies.