Inspired by Nadeshiko & Womens soccer

At 330am, we were awoken by our alarms and we climbed out of bed to support Nadeshiko for the Olympics Women’s soccer finals. There was no doubt in my mind that Nadeshiko would go home with the gold medal, even though they were up against USA, former Olympics women’s soccer gold medalists.

Within the first 11 mins, USA scored the first goal.

Um, okay, that is a bit surprising… who is this Lloyd woman anyway? Surely, I thought, Nadeshiko will bounce back. Then this same Lloyd put in the 2nd goal. Who is she??

Miho Fukumoto is considered a world-class goalkeeper after the world cup and this Olympics, I have seen her do some amazing things but the 2nd goal should not have been conceded. I thought the defender did not mark Lloyd closely enough. Finally in the early part of the 2nd half, Ogimi scored 1 back. 1 more to go. No reason to worry, Nadeshiko can pull off miracles.

Why this faith and exultation for the Japanese women’s team?
 Their story really inspired me. When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami happened, I was working closely with a Japanese director and her make up artiste. They followed the Japanese news closely everyday in Singapore. I visited Japan a few months later and saw how resilient the Japanese spirit was to bounce back. I met up also with an agent friend I worked with. He is an American who has lived in Japan for over a decade. The entire economy wasn’t doing well, recovering from the aftermath and he was making trips up to Fukushima (still is) to help the people who lost their homes and had to start all over rebuilding their lives.

Amidst this backdrop of recovery, Nadeshiko came out of nowhere and won the Woman’s World Cup champion title. I can see how this brought a much-needed boost of excitement, confidence and pride to the recovering nation. I would not call this an underdog story, because the team is made of extremely strong women, determined, and had to go through perhaps more than average odds in an Asian, male dominated culture to achieve the level of skill and strength that they displayed. They are every bit deserving competitors and winners.

Homare Sawa, team captain, was recognized on the international arena as the Women’s World Player of the Year. The Japanese women’s team coach, Norio Sasaki received coach of the year at the Fifa awards. The video of the awards show made me feel really proud to see Asian women dominate in such an international, physical sport arena.

The average height of the Japanese team is 1.62m (5ft 3) and they have been up against much bigger players, with more international acclaim. Quietly, steadily and in a display of humility and sportswomenship, Nadeshiko brought the World Cup gold home last summer in 2011, along with the respect and friendship of some of the best players in the world. This video of one of the greatest female soccer players, Abby Wambach and Sawa’s friendship heartened me.

Here you see Abby Wambach and her team visiting Fukushima to bring some hope after the world cup. I think Nadeshiko really earned the respect of their rivals/compatriots.

I think Abby said it all when she essentially said if Japan’s victory in the women’s world cup can bring hope to a country that has been through such a difficult time, then she can deal with her own heartbreak.  Abby also cheered and congratulated Sawa when she won the World Player award over her. It was almost like Abby was rooting for her Japanese competitor. Talk about good sportswomen ship. 🙂

Turns out Abby and Sawa played for the same team in the USA for awhile, the Washington Freedom Fighters. When Sawa’s professional contract with a Japanese club ended due to a lack of funding, she had to leave home and head out stateside to play. After 19 years of playing soccer, Sawa finally reached the ultimate acclaim and achieved greatness with an Asian underdog women’s soccer team. Sawa said after winning the world cup, there was no rest or celebration for her. She had her eyes on the Olympics and she wanted to make sure the younger players knew the hardship the older players had to go through to pave the way for them. It was women like Sawa who fought for and justified the women’s team. After finishing 4th in the Beijing Olympics, coming so close to a womens soccer olypmics medal, Sawa wanted to medal. And medal they did I guess. I guess silver is still amazing for Japan. So there you go, the winners!

Olympics 2012 Japan Womens soccer team

Nadeshiko with their silver medals. Well done ladies

I just feel like the gold was so near… and it is supposedly Sawa’s last Olympics. Im still holding out that she will be back for the world cup in 3 years.

Behind every great Olympian lies a greater support system. Japan is honoring Sawa’s mother by telling her story as well. This video of Sawa and her mother brought tears to my eyes.  Sawa’s mom said (if it was not wrongly translated) Sawa was kicking a lot even in her tummy. When Sawa wanted to play soccer, there was no girl’s team so she played with her brothers on the boy’s team. At some point, the boy’s team did not allow Sawa to play anymore and her mother fought for her, urging coaches to start a girl’s team. She saw how Sawa loved playing outdoors and she wanted her daughter to have that joy for as long as she could, she wanted her to play like a child for as long as she could too. Then there is that dirty socks that of course, her mother had to deal with. At some point when Sawa wanted to turn professional her mother was supportive, and when Sawa left for the USA she started to appreciate her mother even more. It was cute when they sat all awkward together and her mom was like “We never talk like this” and Sawa spoke in a really formal way. I guess there is still a very Asian family dynamics at play here, and yet her mother made some extraordinary decisions and had some extraordinary faith to raise this extraordinary player.  (Hey, same tragus piercing!)

Catch the video here

How many Asian mothers of that time would fight for their daughters to play soccer, much less support a professional career? How many mothers listen closely to their daughters and support their decision to take a different, difficult path, instead of imposing social norms on them? I read somewhere that Sawa turned down marriage to pursue her soccer career. Her mother recognized her talent her passion and decided to nurture it. That is amazing.

Sawa’s mother raised a champion and gave an inspiration to Japan just when they needed that new heroine.

Edited to add : My friend says I need to write more about Sawa and why I like her.

1) She single-mindedly, passionately pursued her dreams and talent and finally after 19 years, brought her country and team international acclaim for women’s soccer.

2) She is respected by her teammates and an obvious leader, a calm, teacherly presence on the field.

3) Sawa is a powerhouse! A not so secret weapon. She is the ideal midfielder! She has scored countless goals, assisted a huge amount as well and at the same time when defense is needed, Sawa is always there as well. When I see Sawa taking on a competing forward I just feel relief. This woman is everywhere.

4) When Japan could not support a women’s team back then and her professional contract ended without renewal, she boldly left home for USA and made her mark playing there though physically smaller than average. Sawa brought home medals for the american clubs she played for.

5) She is always humble and concerned for her younger counterparts. She is a great role model and bears the mark of a great leader. Her competitors have great things to say about her. Watching her interviews she constantly says (like the rest of her team) that it is everyone’s goal, credit is always shared and it is obvious that she wants no personal glory, even after winning the highest acclaim, World Player from Fifa 2011.

I could go on … but one needs to just follow the matches and follow the post game news to have this great team grow on you. Sawa won many hearts, young and old, across continents.

Homare Sawa with the Japanese flag

While there is a lot of money and sponsorship in men’s soccer, women’s soccer is trailing far behind. I feel like the world cup and Olympics is changing that, with more and more soccer heroines popping up. You have from USA, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo (whose hotness Im sure, helps bring attention to her sport) possibly the best female goalkeeper and fine, I’ll admit, Alex Morgan is pretty damn good skill wise. She is scarily fast and skillful. I think these 3 women will make some decent cash from their professional careers though, enough to not have to supplement their passion with another job at the very least. I think a lot of the Japanese players have to do that. It seems Hope and Alex are already teamed up in the media as a hot pair to advertise for products. P&G is honoring Sawa’s mother, telling a touching story to sell their products. Good on them.

Then in Canada you have also, one of the greatest players, Christine Sinclair. She scored 3 goals and her hat trick against the USA says it all. Melissa Tancredi also really caught my attention. She is a force to reckon with. I quite like the Canadian team generally but these 2 are pretty great. Well, Sinclair is 7 times reigning Canadian player of the year and also 4 times World Player nominee. Brazil has good players too but Im not familiar with the Brazilian team.

Nadeshiko ignited something in me. I don’t think anyone expects an Asian country to excel on the international soccer scene, much less the womens soccer team. Nadeshiko is a team of double minorities with everything against them. Can I again bring up the fact that the (lousy) male U-23 team got to fly business class (they didn’t even medal hello and they rank 20 in the world) while Nadeshiko, AFTER THEIR WORLD CUP CHAMPIONSHIP were relegated to coach? But the ladies took it all in their stride. Sawa did say it should be the other way around, also since the ladies team is older, but she put a positive spin on it and said they have to medal and do well. That pretty much started my interest in Nadeshiko. Initially I wanted to support them for the gold just from a feminist angle, just because I did not like the anti-feminist message behind that airplane incident. But watching them through the Olympics, watching the players carry themselves on the field and off the field, seeing the respect they garnered from their competitors, seeing the strong, passionate and understated women that they are, they have definitely won my heart and respect, along with many in the world.

Oh by the way, yes, Nadeshiko do get to fly business class back after all their hard work, as confirmed by Japan Daily Press

I am deeply inspired by Nadeshiko, if that wasn’t already obvious :p

If a team of physically smaller Asian women can defeat all odds, face sexism, physical disadvantages, coming against social expectations, lack of funding, lack of support at a time when nobody believed in Japanese women soccer players and create their own winning story, then Asian women all over the world can do anything.

Then nobody should ever stop trying to do anything 🙂


2 responses to “Inspired by Nadeshiko & Womens soccer

  1. Greetings from USA, I just wanted to thank you for writing this. Your writing is very enjoyable to read. Our team gets most of the attention but I prefer to watch the Nadeshiko. When they won in 2011 it was very inspiring. They are smaller but they are strong and never give up. I really hope that Sawa will play in the next Olympics. Soccer is not very popular over here, men’s or women’s, but even since the last world cup it is growing. Hopefully many more women’s programs will continue developing around the world. Even in the U.S., I had thought the same as you, “Who is this Lloyd?” it was a disappointing result yesterday, but hopefully there will be a rematch soon for the Nadeshiko. Miyama is truly fantastic to watch, I hope to see her play many more games as well. Cheers 🙂

    • Hi Alex! Thank you for stopping by!
      Sawa has this steadiness about her that really puts me in awe. I went about trying to watch her live matches in Japan.
      I used to play soccer in university and have always loved the sport. It was a brief thing in my life, but I am so glad women’s soccer is finally getting attention!
      What impressed me the most after the Olympics, was the friendship between the American and the Japanese team. Wambach and Sawa are such cool friends, they did interviews together and the US team came over to Japan, appearing on some variety shows as well. It was all good fun. The sportswomanship was very inspiring. They are really cute when they hang.
      I wish some of the older team, like Sawa, Ando and Kinga could have started. But I also feel a lot of affection for some of familiar US players like Wambach, Rampone, Rapino, Morgan and Hope Solo. Llyod, not so much, she was massive destruction! Lol, but good on her. Congrats to you guys!

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