Archive for June, 2010

Before the World Cup started I regretted not being in England due to the lack of enthusiasm in the US for my all-time favourite sporting event. So it has been a real, and wonderful, pleasure to be in New York and see interest leap one hundred-fold from four years ago. One American friend who works for a British firm said she only followed the last World Cup due to the interest of the ex-pats but this time even her mother in  suburban America has been following the progress of the US team.

The amount of coverage between now and then has grown exponentially. For example, the photos above are from a World Cup exhibition sponsored by ESPN which includes paintings of each of the 32 competing nations and is in Columbus Circle, an upscale shopping centre smack in the middle of Manhattan, which have been used for posters that are plastered all over New York. Another friend said that four years ago most Americans didn’t even know the World Cup was on, let alone follow the US team.

After the US’ absolutely-last -gasp-time-added qualification for the last 16 The Wall Street Journal wrote that June 23 2010 was the day the football is boring argument finally died in the US:

“If you weren’t completely, utterly thrilled, exhausted and satisfied by Wednesday’s 1-0 Team USA World Cup thriller over Algeria, you’re a lifeless sports corpse.

But if you watched the U.S.-Algeria throwdown, you’re surely a convert. Did you not loudly slap your desk in triumph, hug or kiss a stranger, down a beer (or three) with your boss? Did you flee your desk entirely for the bar, and if you did, do you remember where you work—or your last name? Or are you at the airport without a suitcase, trying to wiggle onto a flight to South Africa?”

– BuzzFeed has the five best videos showing the reaction to Donovan’s goal from around the US.  It doesn’t include anything from La Guardia airport in New York. Someone told me that he had got off a flight just before the end of the US-Algeria game and suddenly heard thousands of people screaming when the goal went in;

– The Run of Play posts On Happiness after the game ;

– Landon Donovan’s goal is the first of 43 fantastic pictures compiled by the Boston Globe of the first two weeks which perfectly capture the magic of the World Cup;

– The New York Times writes that a foreign game looks very American (although I would argue the beauty of football is that it looks very global);

– At Salon, an American writes about falling in love with the beautiful game when he was posted to Hong  Kong in 1990 and saw everyone watching games involving teams who were from thousands of miles away and he wanted to understand why. I think Andrew Leonard understands it pretty well :

“I don’t know of another sport that can boast the same kind of slowly accumulating tension against a remorselessly ticking clock . When there are ten minutes to go to in a World Cup, there are ten minutes to go, (stoppage time excluded, of course.) It’s not like the last three minutes of a close NBA finals game, where time seems to stretch into infinity.”

So good luck to the US against Ghana today as I hope the love affair continues to blossom – and it will also help keep my mind off the monster England vs Germany clash tomorrow.

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In order to get over the humiliation of England’s performance in the World Cup I wanted to watch something life-affirming and Toy Story 3 was just what the doctor ordered. I loved the first two movies and was worried that this wouldn’t meet my expectations  – but not only did it meet them, it went way beyond them

Toy Story 3 highlights exactly what is wrong with the rest of Hollywood:

– the makers waited to do a sequel until they had a decent script (unlike certain other movies involving women going to the Middle East or pirates);

– it has an original idea that relies on a proper plot rather than special effects;

– you care about the characters;

– the dialogue is genuinely funny and made me laugh out loud;

– and it also made me cry. I couldn’t work out how the story was going to have an ending that wasn’t really depressing but the Pixar team came up with the perfect solution. I found the final scenes just as moving as the opening of Up or when Buzz Lightyear realises he is just a toy in the original Toy Story.

– an added bonus is the lovely animated short, Night & Day, that you get to see before the main feature.

My only quibble is that it would be just as great in 2D and the tickets would also have been cheaper, especially for a movie aimed at families. Toy Story 3 is the best thing I have seen at the cinema for ages and someone should campaign really hard so it becomes the first animated film to win the best picture Oscar.

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Niketown on Fifth Avenue

“Not wishing to indulge in hyperbole of course but is this possibly the worst result since 1066?”

Paul Bowler in the Guardian

After Friday’s embarrassing performance  by England I was wary of even thinking about football but it proved to be a good lesson in letting go – despite my heartfelt wishes there was nothing I could do to change the result or the abject performance of my team. And I have been massively cheered up by the fact that we are still  not as bad as the French team.

In stark contrast to England, the USA played with so much passion and determination to came back from 2-0 down that you would think that football was their national game instead of ours.

There have been lots of comments on why  Americans haven’t embraced football and the World Cup but I can see a huge increase in enthusiasm from four years ago.

This time round Americans are aware their team are playing,  my Twitter feed on Friday showed that a lot of Americans were following the game despite being at work, the newspapers all had the shockingly-disallowed winning goal from the US on their front pages and ABC is broadcasting the main game of the day live.

I was able to watch the hugely enjoyable game (if you are not a Cameroon fan) between Cameroon and Denmark on regular TV and with proper commentary – this time round ESPN has hired experienced commentators from Europe who have actually watched a game of football in contrast to the baseball commentators they used in the last World Cup.

Some more evidence that the US is warming up to football :

US embraces beautiful game;

– The Onion writes a post about the World Cup in its own inimitable style: South African Vuvuzela Philharmonic angered by soccer games breaking out during concerts;

– a dating site uses the US vs England game to introduce American women to British men;

(However this demonstrates the vast cultural chasm that still need to be bridged. There won’t be British guys there, only English guys, as the rest of Britain absolutely hates the England football team; the men will be too busy watching the game and getting drunk – and pissed  Brits in a pub are not the most attractive sight.)

Glenn Beck thinks enough people know about the World Cup for him to rant about it : although off course, the reason for his hatred, the global nature of the game, is exactly why I love it.

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Last week I was lucky enough to spend a week with some old friends. We have known each other long enough that I went to their wedding and this year is their 20th anniversary. In addition I’ve had the absolute pleasure of watching their two sons grow up and develop their own wonderful, and very different, personalities.

Being able to go on vacation and being able to spend it with good friends made me feel very blessed – and reminded me of a couple of things I have read recently about happiness.

– for a daily dose of happiness check out the 1000 Awesome Things blog which manages to come up with an awesome everyday thing every single day;

MP Mueller, a breast cancer survivor, writes about attending a fundraising event:

“Surrounded Saturday night by women bravely dealing with this unwelcome visitor, that jolt came back — the reminder that life is indeed fragile and short. (How do we manage to forget?) Doing what you truly love each day is the difference between existing and living. Are you doing what you truly love? If not, how can you get there? Are you passionate about your work? Do you have a dream you own, a purpose? If not, take the time to reach into your soul and define one. Embrace it and strut down the runway of life with all you’ve got.”

– Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, spoke about the economics of happiness in a commencement address at the University of South Carolina:

“Happiness is just one component of the broader, longer-term concept of life satisfaction, and only one indicator of how the fabric of our lives is being shaped by our choices and circumstances. I am reminded of a story about Abraham Lincoln. According to the story, Lincoln was riding with a friend in a carriage on a rainy evening. As they rode, Lincoln told the friend that he believed in what economists would call the utility-maximizing theory of behavior, that people always act so as to maximize their own happiness, and for no other reason. Just then, the carriage crossed a bridge, and Lincoln saw a pig stuck in the muddy riverbank. Telling the carriage driver to stop, Lincoln struggled through the rain and mud, picked up the pig, and carried it to safety. When the muddy Lincoln returned to the carriage, his friend naturally pointed out that he had just disproved his own hypothesis by putting himself to great trouble and discomfort to save a pig. “Not at all,” said Lincoln. “What I did is perfectly consistent with my theory. If I hadn’t saved that pig, I would have felt terrible.”

The story points out that, sometimes, happiness is nature’s way of telling us we are doing the right thing. True. But, by the same token, ephemeral feelings of happiness are not always reliable indicators we are on the right path. Ultimately, life satisfaction requires more than just happiness. Sometimes, difficult choices can open the doors to future opportunities, and the short-run pain can be worth the long-run gain. Just as importantly, life satisfaction requires an ethical framework. Everyone needs such a framework. In the short run, it is possible that doing the ethical thing will make you feel, well, unhappy. In the long run, though, it is essential for a well-balanced and satisfying life.”

– in the same vein Umair Haque puts together a Betterness Manifesto for the Harvard Business Review :

“Consume less. Do you really need another pair of designer jeans, three soy mocha Frappuccinos a day, or a bigger TV? Really? Betterness happens not through naked, aggressive consumption of disposable, mass-produced stuff, but by learning to spend your hard-earned cash on smaller amounts of awesome stuff that’s made with love, ethics, and passion.”

I shall have to put some thoughts together for my own life satisfaction manifesto. Sometimes it is the smallest things such as being in the supermarket today and seeing that People magazine’s latest issue features the 50 Most Amazing Bodies.

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Nelson Mandela:

“The 2010 Fifa World Cup is more than just a game: it symbolises the power of football to bring people together from all over the world, regardless of language, the colour of one’s skin, political or religious persuasion.”

I have been counting down the days to the World Cup for the last four years and the opening day has reminded me why I love the tournament so much.

This week I have been visiting friends in Vancouver and due to the time difference the first game was at seven this morning.

I am well-known for not being a morning person but I found myself waking up early on vacation to watch the match and am really glad I did. South Africa scored a spectacular goal in a dream start to the first African tournament. The dream was almost realised as South Africa came close to winning in the 89th minute but even though that didn’t happen it was still great to watch the enthusiasm of the fans.

One of my favourite things about the World Cup is finding yourself cheering for (some) other teams when your own isn’t involved and I found myself shouting for South Africa – luckily my friends were out of the house taking their kids to school so I didn’t embarrass myself too much.

However this won’t be the case tomorrow when England play their first game as I will either go crazy when we win or cry if we lose. To get in the mood for the match this is my favourite England World Cup song – World in Motion by New Order from back in 1990:

And a few other World Cup links:

Nike’s latest World Cup ad;

– although I prefer the Star Wars inspired ad from Adidas;

New Yorker piece on Everton and US goalie Tim Howard and how he believes having Tourette’s Syndrome has helped his game;

National Geographic’s fab article, Mandela’s Children, highlighting the importance of the tournament to South Africa;

– a reminder of the last time England played the US in the World Cup (I am keeping my fingers crossed that history doesn’t repeat itself).

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As I have written before the World Cup, which starts a week today, is my favourite sporting event because you truly feel like you are participating in a global phenomenon. This year’s event is even more special as it is the first to be hosted by Africa, and for what it means to South Africa.

This article in National Geographic describes the World Cup as a turning point :

“South Africa’s selection to host the 2010 World Cup gave people a surge of confidence. Their nation could now be remembered for bringing the world soccer rather than apartheid.”

However it was the stories of individuals still dealing with the legacies of apartheid which made me cry. In particular, a meeting between a former white supremacist Daniel Stephanus Coetzee  and one victim of his bombing, Olga Macingwane:

“The interview goes on for two hours. Finally, Olga Macingwane gets to her feet. Unusually, she is fighting with her emotions. She says, “Stefaans, when I see you, I see my sister’s son in you, and I cannot hate you.” She extends her arms. “Come here, boy,” she says in Xhosa. Coetzee walks into her embrace. “I forgive you,” Macingwane says softly. “I have heard what you said, and I forgive you.” “

There are other inspirational voices in the piece who make you optimistic that South Africa will be able to live up to  Nelson Mandela‘s vision of a rainbow nation. Marjorie Jobson, national director of the Khulumani Support Group, an organisation of 58,000 victims of political violence, mainly during the apartheid era, who says:

“I think they just wanted apartheid to go away and the government to fix everything. But that didn’t happen. It’s up to each individual South African to participate actively in restitution. You know, the power of one. The power one person has to perpetuate our violent past, or the power one person has to contribute to a just, peaceful society.”

Or Tshepo Madlingozi, who arranges the meeting between Coetzee and Macingwane. He says:

“Meeting Stefaans has reignited my faith in the future of South Africa.  My worldview is black consciousness, and that hasn’t changed as a result of knowing Stefaans. But it has made me appreciate that even the most ardent racists—even murderers—can change and be humble. Yes, Stefaans’s intelligence, humility, acute appreciation of the consequences of his actions and the system of apartheid, as well as his appreciation that reconciliation is not merely about showing goodwill, have greatly inspired me.”

As much as I want to see England win the World Cup, in this case I won’t mind if they don’t if the tournament is even half as successful as the 1995 Rugby World Cup when the sight of Mandela in a Springbok shirt united blacks and whites into one nation.

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