After a total hiatus from television for over two weeks (as in... it was not turned on once for any reason) I watched television today because the US women's soccer team were playing Brazil - and winning! The reason I knew this was that a dear friend who lives in Amsterdam and is mother to my godchild, Yosi, skyped me back in quick response to my, "hello, carrel!" with a crisp, "can't talk now - watching US/Brazil!" That propelled me out of bed and to the living room where I found it relatively simple to overcome my now legendary intimidation by technology (all show, or so my husband claims!) to succeed in turning it on and watching the gutsy US team deal with unfair calls, a penalty kick that was essentially awarded to Brazil twice, and playing with one woman down after a yellow card call, to go on and win their game against Brazil.
What a World Cup! First Japan beats Germany and now the US team which has not won a World Cup soccer tournament in 12 years beats Brazil. Quite electrifying. Yet, you would not know really know that this incredible event was happening in the US. None of the bars are full of folks watching - and the fact that some Yankee hit his 3,000th home run got a lot more play in the news reports than the US women. My friend, Claudia Tompert, the insanely talented web designer who designed the Global Fund for Women logo, website and many of our annual reports over the years (see www.tompertdesign.com), has just come back from visiting her home country, Germany. Home to this years Women's World Cup, Germany which used to be a place where no one even encouraged "girls" to play soccer, has now become an equal opportunity champion of both women's and men's soccer. Sehr gut, say I! More power to them. Also particularly moving for me is the story about Lira, one of the members of the German team, a young Muslim woman who is a role model for many. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/sports/soccer/for-host-germany-in-womens-world-cup-diversity-is-the-goal.html)
So many women in more traditional societies love sports - particularly soccer, but are so rarely allowed to play it in ways that enable them to fully relish the "beautiful game". Recently, I recall listening to an National Public Radio story about how the Iranian team was banned from competing in the qualifying matches for the 2012 Olympics, because its uniforms covered too much of the skin and hair of players. The Iranian players were caught between not meeting the eligibility standards of FIFA on the one hand and the strict modesty edicts of the Iranian government on the other. Shame on both for penalizing the players, who have already faced all kinds of challenges within their traditional families and communities to be able just to play their game. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/irans-women-soccer-team-banned-from-olympics-because-of-headscarves/2011/06/06/AGqVuXKH_gallery.html)
Just how much it means to be able to play the game is something that I am learning from our daughter Mira. Her blog posts (yes - I followed her example into the blogosphere) as she writes for Magic Bus have opened my eyes. This organization was founded in Mumbai to give girls and boys a chance to dream by engaging them in the joys of football aka soccer. In Mira's last post (http://magicbususa.org/blogs/where-courage-lives) she wrote:
"You see this courage in the girls on the Magic Bus soccer team too. These young women do NOT want you to treat them specially, they do not want you to feel bad for them or to treat them as helpless or alone. When they step on to the soccer field, you would not know anything about where they come from, you wouldn’t look at them and know what their homes are like, what their lives entail. You would look at them and see young girls playing soccer. Laughing and talking and learning from one another.I think that soccer is called the beautiful game because we are not constricted by anything on the field. It doesn’t matter where you live, who you pray to, how dark your skin is."
Mira has played soccer since she was in first grade. There were very few weekends that my husband and I did not spend on soccer fields across the Bay area, the Golden State - CA, and, in the past few years, across the country. A few weeks before she ended her junior year at high school and took off to intern with Magic Bus in Mumbai, she sustained her third concussion in less than a year in a local soccer scrimmage. As parents, we knew she would be devastated at the idea of not playing competitive soccer anymore, but we knew we had to take that decision and break the news to her. We have been humbled by how bravely she has sought to make sense of this new reality.
Upsets like the US team defeating Brazil and the petite Japanese women beating Germany happen. They are a part of the game. Perhaps soccer has given Mira a gift beyond her speed, and agility, and strength. Perhaps being a soccer player prepares you for the unexpected upsets of life as well - that bumpy field where real champions are forged. Viva el futbol!