The world celebrates with Japan

The successes of the Japanese women’s football team and golfer Darren Clarke show how positive and uniting sport can be.

Darren Clarke is happy even before the Claret Jug is filled with Guinness [GALLO/GETTY] 

Sport should exist to provide us with escapism from the world’s many miseries.

It should but it doesn’t always.

All too often journalists spend time and effort sucking the life and joy out of sport by focusing on the darker side of the business.

Instead of concentrating on people who have fought against the odds to achieve something remarkable, we focus on greedy Premier League players seeking transfers to Chelsea or the corruption at the heart of FIFA.

However, this weekend two different sporting events occurred that meant we could ignore the positives no longer.

Travelling from a pleasant corner of Kent to a packed stadium in Frankfurt, the joy of sport suddenly became beautifully clear.  

Darren Clarke proved age really isn’t anything but a number by winning the British Open at the age of 42 on his 20th attempt.

Following four days of Open golf, a face from the past proved that he actually wasn’t one by dominating the tournament in difficult conditions.

Clarke’s victory was all the more poignant considering the context of his win. 

“Nothing can compare with what I went through on that first tee”

Darren Clarke on his 2006 Ryder Cup display

In 2006, Clarke’s life fell apart when he lost his beloved wife Heather to breast cancer.

Just six weeks after Heather’s death Clarke rode a tide of emotion to help Europe to Ryder Cup glory at the K Club.

“Nothing can compare with what I went through on that first tee,” he said of the difficult decision to play in the Ryder Cup so soon after his loss.

“There will never be a harder shot or hole for me to play.”

There is likely to never be an easier putt for him to play than the one that gave him his first Open Championship win on Sunday.

It was a moment full of joy, not of sorrow. 

Clarke’s Open victory was more than an individual achievement or one for Northern Irish golf.

The Claret Jug was also held aloft for anyone who has suffered bereavement or worried that the best of their career was already behind them.

A fantasy in Frankfurt

Just a hop, step and a jump over in Germany, an equally remarkable story was unravelling.

A nation who had been torn apart by March’s earthquake and tsunami were on the brink of pulling off the most unlikely of victories.

Against the favourites the United States, the women’s Japanese football team came from behind twice to push the World Cup final to a penalty shootout.

The world celebrated as Japan gave their nation something to smile about [GALLO/GETTY]

It was a shootout Japan went on to calmly win and a victory they respectfully celebrated in front of the world.  

Japan may have been one of the more talented teams in the tournament but one suspects their victory was driven by the need to bring some joy to friends and family back home.

As Japan lifted the trophy, it wasn’t just the Japanese smiling, but the world.

The Americans even joined in the celebrations.

Bill from the United States wrote to Al Jazeera saying, “How can anyone in the world be anything but happy to see Japan’s victory? It is a real and symbolic statement of human perseverance in the face of adversity.”

The outpouring of emotion on social media sites showed the reaction to Japan’s victory was on a massive global scale.

The women’s World Cup final set a new record for tweets per second, eclipsing recent news events such as the wedding of Prince William and Kate and the death of Osama bin Laden.

The great thing about the praise for Japan, and for Darren Clarke, was that it was not divided along race, religion or nationality lines.

Their victories were celebrated by all because they gave us hope that however far down you fall it is always possible to pick yourself back up again.  

For me, it was a response from Popoola Saheed in Nigeria that perfectly summed up why Japan’s victory should not be quickly forgotten.

“Japan has been spurned on by fans from around the world and that is the power of sport.

“Sport must at all time reflect unity and this is a lesson for the world’s football governing body, FIFA, to let football portray its full image rather than a corruption-full game which it has turned out to be in recent time. This is the surest footpath to unite the world.”

Source: Al Jazeera


Coverage is becoming increasingly male-dominated thanks to football and Formula One – and women are going along with it.

26 May 2011
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