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August 2010

Backing the bid(s)?

24 Aug 2010(Tue)

The first thing I woke up to this morning, after the alarm clock anyway, was a BBC headline that read “England 2018 World Cup bid ‘unbeatable’”. Of course, the news would have been even more promising had the quote actually come from a member of the visiting FIFA delegation rather than their host, but there still appears every justification for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – the holiday for David Cameron presumably having been timed so as to avoid the risk of more Triesman-esque verbal gaffes – to sound so categorically positive. As the Liberal Democrat leader says, “the excitement and passion behind this bid is huge”, and even FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s daily sound bite was superficially encouraging too. “The easiest way to organise the World Cup is to go to England,” acknowledges good old Sepp. “Everything is there – fans, stadiums, infrastructure.”

 

The idea that hosting a major sporting event should be a serious political coup doesn’t necessarily work exactly the same way in Japan, where the identity of the prime minister changes about as often as the top of the music charts and, similarly, is only really worth keeping up with if you’re actually involved in the industry or still at school. Ironically, this has apparently now extended to the presidency of the national football association, with FIFA executive committee member Junji Ogura replacing the divisive Motoaki Inukai just days after the departure of the 2022 bid inspectors last month. But everyone is still all smiles in this part of the world too. Japan may lack the traditions of the self-styled home of football but everyone knows it possesses sufficient infrastructure, facilities, and ability to get organised when it really matters to put on a World Cup tomorrow. Not to mention the super advanced technology and environmental initiatives promised in the event that the second Finals hosting rights to be voted on this December are sent this way.

 

An all-Japanese World Cup in 2022 would have terrific consequences for the Kansai region, a historical footballing heartland until much of the J. League’s early success happened in the east of the country. Rather than extending the Yokohama International Stadium or any of the other venues in the Greater Tokyo Area to the 80,000 capacity now required for the opening ceremony and final, the bidding committee intends to build an ultra-ultra-modern facility – tentatively named the ‘Osaka Ecology Stadium’ – right in the middle of Osaka’s central business district. The overdue relocation of a railway freight terminal built back in 1928 before the area became such prime real estate provides the opportunity, and to boot, this site is just ten minutes’ walk from my apartment and even visible from the balcony. I have already been encouraged to stay put by friends, family, and strangers on Facebook and Twitter; none of whom neglect to ask if I have any plans for my spare room twelve years hence.

 

And yet, the main guarantee of Japan’s suitability as a host nation remains – as it always has – the overwhelming reason that the executive committee should reject it out of hand. When the JFA launched the professional J. League and announced its bid for the 2002 World Cup in the early 1990s, this fitted in perfectly both with FIFA’s vision of taking its flagship event around the planet and with its mission to support the growth of football in key potential markets. As much, however, as a second tournament could further the already impressive development of Japanese football and provide much-needed economic stimulus – not least to the companies commissioned to develop eco technologies for the Osaka Ecology Stadium and what have you – there are now simply too many other countries and fans around the world who have awaited their turn for longer. Supporters of the calamitous England 2006 campaign were irritated when 1974 hosts Germany got their way again; just eight years on from that Ronaldo brace in Yokohama, it would stick in the throats of a lot more people if FIFA were to single out Japan (or South Korea, for that matter) for the reward of two World Cups in as many decades.

 

Whatever he may say in public, one has to wonder just how much Ogura believes any different. Still, at least the situation remains entirely win-win for him. Sealing the vote would be a personal success; defeat could be put down to the premature ambition of a predecessor looking to secure his own legacy.

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Hiroshi Kagawa enters the Hall of Fame

19 Aug 2010(Thu)

One of the chief purposes behind the establishment of Football Japan in spring 2008 was for it to serve as a vehicle for the Japan Soccer Archive – a JFA-endorsed, official historical record of Japanese football for which I have had the great privilege of assisting the legendary sportswriter Hiroshi Kagawa in compiling. Though still very much a work in progress, the archive presents a detailed year-by-time timeline of the development of the global game in this country since 1912 – placed in context alongside events elsewhere in the world – and profiles the luminaries whose contributions and achievements have been deemed significant enough for a place in the Japan Football Hall of Fame.

 

This Tuesday, the Japan Football Association announced that Kagawa himself had been specially selected to join this Hall of Fame as part of its seventh annual group of inductees, in recognition of his 60-year career as Japan’s most respected football journalist.

 

Born in Hyogo Prefecture in 1924, Kagawa played football throughout his formative years at school and university, before appearing in two Emperor’s Cup finals with Osaka Club in the early 1950s. By this point, his attention was already turning to the written word as a medium to convey his passion for the sport, joining the Sankei Shimbun newspaper in 1952 before ultimately becoming editor of the Osaka-based Sankei Sports in 1974 until his official retirement ten years later. Reaching the age of 60 was no deterrent, however, for Kagawa has since remained equally active as a freelance writer, contributing to a number of different publications such as Soccer Magazine and Football Japan (of whose parent company, SIX Inc., he is chairman). Even at 85, Kagawa’s love both for football and for his work remains as deep as ever, and as he told me before this summer’s tournament in South Africa, his frustration at the hip trouble that forced him to miss a World Cup for the first time since 1970 has only strengthened his resolve to charter his own plane to Brazil in 2014.

 

Aside from writing, Kagawa’s illustrious career has also seen him involved in the organization of the Osaka rounds of the football competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, the foundation of Kobe Football Club in 1970, and the development of the Kansai Football Association as a long-standing member of the board. His nomination to the Japan Football Hall of Fame follows a similar honour bestowed posthumously on his older brother Taro, a former Japan international, in 2006.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to offer my heartfelt congratulations to Kagawa-san for this enormously well-deserved recognition. It has been a great pleasure and real honour to get to know him in both professional and personal capacities over the past two and a half years, and I have always found him to be a man of great warmth, integrity, and humility who commands the utmost respect from all around him. I look forward to working alongside Kagawa-san for a long time to come, and in particular to the feature that he will now have to write about himself for the Japan Soccer Archive!

 

Many, many congratulations, Kagawa-san.

 

Photo_kagawa3

 

 

Related links:

Japan Football Hall of Fame – Japanese only

Japan Soccer Archive – English-language version; work in progress

Kagawa Hiroshi no hengensekku – Kagawa’s column at Football Japan (Japanese only)

Guardian article on Kagawa’s pre-World Cup thoughts

 

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Interview with Kaizer Chiefs supporters’ club chairman Nylon Mphahlele

5 Aug 2010(Thu)

During the recent series of special Football Japan Minutecast features recorded in South Africa, I spoke with Nylon Mphahlele – chairman of the supporters’ club (Greater Johannesburg branch) at Kaizer Chiefs, one of the most popular professional football teams in the country. Speaking shortly before the 2010 World Cup final at Soccer City, Nylon told me about the experience of a World Cup in his own country; how overseas fans took to cuisine such as pap and boerewors; and how the domestic Premier Soccer League might be affected when things return to normal.

 

 

As such a prominent supporter of domestic football in South Africa, what has it meant to you to have the World Cup here in your country?

 

I feel very fortunate to witness this – it is a very big opportunity for me to see this happen in my own country. The whole of Africa has never hosted this kind of tournament before, so I am so happy. I have enjoyed it very much. I went to one match at FNB Stadium (Soccer City), which was Argentina versus Mexico. The score was 3-1 and the game was so nice.

 

During the matches at Ellis Park – the other Johannesburg stadium – you have been working on a stall outside selling South African food like steak and boerewors. How have you enjoyed cooking for customers from around the world?

 

It was fantastic because you experience, you learn, and you see what kinds of foods they like. But unfortunately, we didn’t make so much money. Why? Because you can’t really do something that we have never done before. We are just selling what we can and what we have. So a lot of people would just come and look at what we were selling. Some of them were taking photos and asking about things like pap, which is part of our culture and what we are eating here in South Africa. So they just looked at it – some of them wanted to taste it, but some of them just said no. But it was still very good.

 

I heard that FIFA told you what prices to charge for all the food, even though you were outside the actual stadium premises. Is that true?

 

Yes. They told us that we must have a standard price for the boerewors rolls, for pap and steak, and stuff like that, because they said that people might want to overcharge or even charge less. But I think most people were expecting too much from foreign visitors, because they thought maybe they’ve got a lot of money. So FIFA came along with their standard price and said ‘no, you must charge this price’.

 

Moving back to on-the-field matters, how do you think this experience of hosting the World Cup will affect the Premier Soccer league and domestic football in South Africa afterwards?

 

I think that we’re now going to see a very different kind of soccer again, because we’ve just spent a month watching international soccer. Especially European football is not the same as our South African football. We are now going back to our slow build-ups – they are dilly-dallying a lot with the ball, and not passing as quickly as the Europeans. I don’t think it’s going to change anything, because we still have the same coaches and the same players. There is not a lot that is going to have changed so much now. But I think the players will have learned a lot from seeing this in their own country, so maybe they can do something much better in future.

 

How about the fans? After such masses of people came out in support of Bafana Bafana, do you think there will be more fans to watch the Premier Soccer League matches?

 

The way I look at things, if Manchester United could come next after the World Cup – maybe two days after the final – you would see a lot of people who want to watch them against whichever team they are playing. But coming to domestic football, I am disappointed with Indian South Africans, because they are based in South Africa but they like Manchester United more than other teams in this country. They don’t support our local football at all. The very same people who came to our soccer before the World Cup are still going to attend, but maybe only a few of these others are going to support their local soccer teams. We’ll just have to see what happens after the World Cup.

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