Homare Sawa: Still Unsung

The Number 10 wears kimono

It’s the picture that should have made headlines across the world: Lionel Messi next to a Japanese woman in kimono. He is the best footballer in the world. Actually, he’s the best man in the world in playing football. She is the best woman in the world to play football.

The news that Homare Sawa wins the award, the first Asian to do so, still does not ring outside the following circles in English-language media: international Japanese media, mainstream American sports media, and official sites of football authorities. For the rest, there’s only Barcelona with Neymar’s goooooollllllllll on the side.

In many macho part of the world, report on Sawa’s victory follows to only what Reuters and AP have provided. Here in Indonesia, some ever omitted the news, as a headline on Messi and Barcelona is really what the readers are after. I guess maybe for Westerners the image of a champion footballer is a roaring amazon in her black sports bra, while for the rest of the world (China included), it is Ronaldinha. Not a Japanese in kimono.

On second thought, let alone Sawa, Neymar also had his fame put very, very, sidelined. Before showing his rampage with Portuguese commentary, ESPN Asia had to maintain its English-centric view and ran Rooney’s scissor against City (not there was anything wrong with it).

The problem, of course, lies with the appeal of women football.  In the Promised Land of women football, Women’s Professional Soccer only has five active teams, with the team with most catchy name magicJack (in an Asian mall it’s a good name for a frozen yogurt outlet) is already defunct. That is why the world champions stick to semi-professional L. League (well done Japan, now Latvia and Lebanon can’t rebrand their leagues). Well, that the Proper Ladies of Japan had their time in America were handy, so that American media could say “she played for Washington Freedom”. United States’ best player, Abby Wambach, is currently without club, and even last season in magicJack she was the player-manager. So even despite Americans’ high interest for the last World Cup, and the inclusion of women football in American nationalism, Americans still don’t see the appeal of watching a week in week out of women football. Maybe after all, Americans still see that their national teams serve only one function: to pummel out the world during random summer. Maybe that what is what “USA! USA! USA!” is about.

On the other hand, I can only *imagine* that the Homare Sawa craze in Japan is less subdued than the past exposes…like for Miwa Asao or volleyball stars like Saori Kimura and Megumi Kurihara (let’s not go into Megumi Kawamura). Certainly it’s less like Korean craze for Kim Yuna. Sawa’s a national hero alright, but facially she’s less attractive* than the mentioned stars (hey, even America has soft spot for Hope Solo). But considering the hype Japanese media can build for the flavor of the week, maybe the normal level of exposition of Sawa is alright. But already there’s a scam (here’s another Japanese tradition) for ‘photo opportunity with Sawa/Nadeshiko’. And yes, this year is Olympics’ year. duh.

*Well, I found it’s hard to advertise other players like Ayumi Kaihori or Aya Miyama to people who would assume that they look like Ayumi Hamasaki and Aya Ueto. Personally my favorite is Karina Maruyama. Since she was sporting cornrow.

I think the most well-developed female league in business is Frauen Bundesliga. Already three Nadeshiko playing there – Saki Kumagai (Frankfurt), Kosue Ando (Duisburg), and Yuki Nagasato (Turbine Postdam). Aya Sameshima and Rumi Utsugi, meanwhile, play for Montpellier in French D1 Feminine. Still, knowing how much sexism still rules Japanese and Korean business and societies, I’m still astonished which how much women football a) raises little objection from males compared to the general attitude in the West and b) how good are Korean and Japanese women at it, something that still evades the Europeans and Spanish-speaking Americans.

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