Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team
Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team reacts to their loss to Trinidad and Tobago during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Couva, Trinidad And Tobago. © Ashley Allen / AFP

The headlines in America were devastating:

  • Shocking loss to 99th-ranked Trinidad leaves U.S. out of World Cup
  • Stunned U.S face major questions after World Cup debacle
  • What does World Cup failure mean for soccer in the USA?
  • U.S. out of excuses after defeat in Trinidad leaves it out of World Cup
  • Where does U.S. Soccer go from here? 10 immediate aftershocks of World Cup failure

When the US national team lost to the Trinidad and Tobago team in the CONCACAF tournament, a meeting of North and South American teams qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, USA was expected to continue its string of appearances in the World Cup since 1990. After all Trinidad & Tobago (or T&T) was ranked 99th in the world, the US ranked 28th, its population a little over a million, while the US is well over 300 million with a well-established professional soccer league.

Trinidad and Tobago defeat US in World Cup Qualifier
Trinidad and Tobago defeats the US 2-1 to deny US from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup

On top of that T&T was already out of the running for the World Cup, deep in last place having lost 7 out of 8 matches in the tournament when they faced off with the US squad. The US was in third and needed a win to get their tickets punched to Russia next year, but T&T were aggressive, scoring two goals in the first half of their qualifier match on October 10, 2017.

But while most of the headlines you might see in the internet suggest that the storyline is the dramatic failure of the mighty US, the flip side of the story is the dramatic triumph of David over Goliath. And for those soccer fans in the two-island nation off the northern coast of South America, there was also satisfaction at achieving a measure of revenge. T&T came so close to qualifying for its first world cup in 1989, needing only to draw to advance. But they lost to the US 1-0, thus propelling the US to the World Cup in Italy the following year.

Here are a few of the comments from the liveblog of the match as posted by Kwame Laurence of the Trinidad Express during the game:

10:56 USA OUT!

T&T’s 2-1 victory over the United States has booted the Americans out of the 2018 World Cup. Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 and Panama defeated Costa Rica 2-1, the combination of results forcing USA into fifth spot in CONCAF qualifying.

10:59 SWEET REVENGE FOR T&T!

It took 28 years, but T&T finally enjoyed sweet revenge over the United States. With T&T’s fourth win in 26 matches against USA, the home team avenged the November 19th, 1989 1-0 defeat that prevented T&T from qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Double 10 Drama

Double 10 – October 10th – will go down in T&T football history as a date to remember, alongside November 19th. Tonight’s 2-1 victory came too late to propel T&T into the 2018 World Cup. But there was the satisfaction of ending USA’s World Cup qualification bid. One could say this was the ultimate revenge for USA’s 1-0 win on November 19th, 1989, a result that abruptly ended T&T’s hopes of qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Brandi Chastain Sports Illustrated Cover

It was 1999 and the two premier national teams in women’s soccer were facing off in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena California to determine the champions of the second FIFA World Cup Championship.

The United States and China were locked in a scoreless draw through regular and extra time, with victory coming down to a penalty shootout. After goaltender Briana Scurry stopped a shot in the third round, victory rested in the left foot of Brandi Chastain. And when she rocketed the ball into the upper right hand corner of the net, Chastain immediately ripped off her jersey, fell to her knees, her arms extended in ecstatic triumph, and her black Nike sports bra exposed for the entire world to see.

Lisa Lindahl was at home in Vermont when her phone rang and her friend told her to switch on the TV. Lindahl was an entrepreneur who established the market for sports bras in the late 1970s, so when she saw Chastain raise her arms in victory, she said was astonished, and proud. “It was her confidence, her preparation and her long journey that came to fruition in that moment,” said Lindahl in this 99% invisible podcast. “And that is perfect because I could say that about my journey of the jog bra.”

One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, is not about sports, but about design. And strange as it may seem today, the sports bra was non-existent before 1977. No sportswear or sports equipment manufacturer ever imagined why women would ever need a sports bra.

Dr. LaJean Lawson, who is the Sports Bra Science and Marketing Consultant to Champion Athleticwear, and has been shaping the design of the sports bra for three decades, said that the environment for women in sports when she was growing up was very different.

When I started high school we weren’t allowed to run full court because there was the assumption that girls were too weak, and we couldn’t run any races longer than 400 meters. So women participating in sports having/needing a sports bra is so recent.

The more Lawson promoted the sports bra and the idea of better fitness for women, she even got hate mail.

This letter said “If God had intended women to run he would not have put breasts on them.” There was a whole socio-cultural stereotype of how women should behave, and it wasn’t vigorously and badly. It was more calm and sweet, and how to comport yourself with more steadiness, and not the sort of enthusiasm and passion you see with sport.

But in the 1970s, circumstances were conspiring in the United States to make it easier for women to participate and compete in sports.

In the United States, a section of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, famously called “Title IX,” was created, and subsequently had a huge impact on American society. While the overall goal was to ban gender discrimination within federally funded schools and universities, encouraging greater access for women to higher education, protecting pregnant women and parenting students from being expelled, and challenging gender stereotypes about whether boys or girls were strong in a particular academic category like math and science, Title IX has had a tremendous impact on women in sports.

According to this article, “the impact of Title IX on women’s sports cannot be overstated: the NCAA says the number of female college athletes is at an all-time high, and the numbers of girls playing high school sports has swelled from fewer than 300,000 in 1974 to more than 3.1 million in 2012.”

Additionally, getting into shape and staying fit became a huge part of the American pop culture in the 1970s and 1980s. With bestselling books like The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx, which came out in 1977, and Jane Fonda’s Workout, published in 1981, women were running and working out more.

And the more women ran, the more obvious it became that they had a problem men did not. Here’s what Lindahl had to say about that:

My whole generation started exercising, and I had a friend introduce me to what was then called “jogging”. When you have at-shirt over bouncing nipples, you get chafing. So the answer to that is to put a bra on. Because I did try running without any bra. And then of course I got a lot of comments from passing motorists, and certain male runners. So you wear a bra and that poses problems of different sorts, like the straps that fall off your shoulders so you’re always jigging them back up, hardware can dig into your back, and they’re hot and sweaty.

One day, Lindahl’s sister, who also ran, called to ask this obvious, painfully obvious, question: “‘What do you do about your boobs? I am so uncomfortable when I’m running! Why isn’t there a jock strap for women?’ That’s when we really laughed. We thought that was hilarious.”

Jog Bra ad from 1970s 2

But Lindahl couldn’t get the idea out of her head, and started to think about the ideal bra for female runners – a bra with straps that wouldn’t fall off the shoulders and wide enough so they wouldn’t dig in. Lindahl recruited a friend, Polly Smith, who was a seamstress and costume designer. And they worked through multiple prototypes for this bra, but could not hit upon the design that made it easier for her to run. Then one day, Lindahl’s husband came down the steps with a jock strap not where it was supposed to be – over his head and across his chest – and said playfully, “Hey ladies, here’s your new jock bra!”

The three of them had a great laugh, and Lindahl thought to continue the joke by pulling the jock strap off her husband and putting it on herself….except that when Lindahl put the jock strap over her breast, she had an epiphany. “Oh!”

The next day, Lindahl went running in a contraption that featured two jock straps sewn together, and realized she had a design that would work. Lindahl, Smith and Smith’s assistant, Hinda Schreiber decided to build a business. Schreiber’s father lent them $5000, the team built a relationship with an apparel manufacturer in South Carolina, and by 1978, they were distributing the “Jog Bra.”

Despite the initial reaction of sports retailers, who thought that the jog bra should go in a lingerie department and not in a sporting goods store, sales of the $16 bra took off. Jog Bra had annual sale increases of 25%, and created an entirely new market. More importantly, it enabled women to enjoy their sporting activities more fully and freely, whether it was taking part in a Jane Fonda workout, playing point guard on a high school basketball team, or running a marathon. The sports bra that Lindahl, Smith and Schreiber created liberated a whole generation of women athletes.

That feeling of liberation came to fruition that moment Brandi Chastain ripper off her jersey in 1999. But that vision was in Lindahl’s head in 1977.

It should be modest enough I could take off my t-shirt on really hot summer days because I had a running partner who would do that. He would take off his shirt in the middle of his run, pull it over his head and tuck it in the back of his shorts. I was so jealous because I couldn’t do that.

Today, millions of women can and do, thanks to the Jog Bra. Happy 40th!

jack-ma-and-thomas-bach-in-davos
Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and IOC President Thomas Bach seal the deal

China is sports mad. And when one of the biggest emerging markets in the world wants something, the eye may pop. For example, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was offered over USD100 million per year to play for a Chinese Super League Club, with an additional USD300 million to go to Real Madrid for the transfer.

While Ronaldo turned the Chinese down, others are turning their thumbs up.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, in mid-January, 2017, the International Olympic Committee announced the addition of Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, to the IOC’s exclusive group of global sponsors known as TOP Sponsors. Alibaba is one of the biggest e-commerce businesses in the world, and joins such firms as Coca Cola, Toyota, Visa, McDonalds, Bridgestone, Samsung and GE granted rights to the marketing of the famed five rings.

This deal is huge: USD 800 million over 12 years or 6 summer and winter Olympiads. In addition to payment, Alibaba will also build a global shopping platform for the IOC, as well an Olympic-related digital TV channel in China, which will help build the IOC’s reach within this highly valued market. Considering that the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing, Alibaba becomes a significantly powerful and possibly pathbreaking partner for the IOC in building stronger relations within Chinese business and government circles.

As Alibaba founder and CEO said, “We are proud to support Olympic Agenda 2020, using our innovations and technologies to help evolve the Olympic Games for the digital era.”

According to sports marketing consultant, Michael Payne, who was intimately involved in the early days of the IOC’s TOP program, “This is so much more than about marketing or sponsorship. It is potentially the single biggest, groundbreaking partnership the IOC has done to date.”

A pedestrian walks past Alibaba.com adve

Alibaba is a powerhouse in China, particularly with its e-commerce businesses T-Mall and Taobao. But these services are not as well-known as sites like Amazon, and those who know them may be wary of their reputation for selling counterfeit goods. Thus major brands and buyers…beware.

According to the IOC, building the e-commerce platform for the IOC will give Alibaba greater incentive to figure out how to uncover the counterfeit goods from flooding the market.

Additionally, its growing cloud services business is weak overseas. Jack Ma wants to increase global revenue ex-China to fifty percent. Cloud services is already an area where Alibaba is gaining global traction. Being a TOP sponsor will give Alibaba overseas exposure of the likes they would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, particularly in their home region of Asia, where the next three Olympics will be held (PyeongChang, Tokyo and Beijing).

According to Bloomberg, Alibaba had to fight for this sponsorship. IOC TOP sponsors are given exclusive rights to market their products and services within their industry. Alibaba is the official “Cloud Services” and “E-Commerce Platform Services” and it is assumed that big cloud service providers (Amazon? Microsoft) were also in the mix.

 

Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer

    Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer

The bigger picture at the Rio Olympics:

Cambridge Bolt and Brommel

Neymar nails the final penalty kick to win gold
Brazil captain Neymar broke down in tears after scoring the penalty that earned his country’s first ever football gold medal (Photo: Getty Images)

Brazil had so much to be proud of at the 2016 Rio Olympics:

olympic-torch_usatsi_9424428

chapecoense-players-who-did-not-travel
Players who did not travel on the fatal flight paid tribute to their teammates at the club’s stadium in Chapecó. Photograph: Douglas Magno/AFP/Getty Images

“We ask for permission to approach, we have a fuel problem!”

“Nine thousand feet! “Vectors! Vectors!”

Those were, according to this article, reported to be the last words of the pilot who, on November 29, suddenly lost control of a plane carrying 77 people, including members of the Chaepecoense soccer team. The Chapecoense team was travelling from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Medellin, Colombia when their Avro RJ85 jet crashed, killing all but 6 fortunate passengers, three of them members of the team of 22.

Up to that moment, Chapecoense was living large, playing the role of lovable upstart, making the finals of the Copa Sudamericana, a major soccer tournament in South America. From a small town called Chapeco in Western Brazil, the Chapecoense Warriors were playing well against the rich teams since the end of the Rio Olympics in August, strong teams like Argentina’s Independiente and San Lorenzo. But tragedy struck unexpectedly and football fans across South America mourned, but none more so painfully than the hometown fans. Here’s how The Guardian described it:

Among townspeople, there is a sense that the loss of most of their plucky team of giantkillers wasn’t just a local tragedy, but something bigger: the loss of a tight, well-organised, and competent unit that stood out for its unexpected success in a country that has lost its way.

A Chapecoense fan at the vigil in Chapecó.png

This is a deeply divided nation which in the past year has been roiled by a debilitating recession, a gargantuan corruption scandal and the divisive impeachment of an unpopular leftwing president. At times it has seemed that Brazil is no longer sure how to manage itself; Chapecoense was a small team that knew exactly what it was doing.

In the history of aviation disasters involving sports teams, soccer squads have had more than their fair share of tragedies. As listed in this article, there was the crash in Turin Italy in 1949 that claimed the lives of 22 members of the Tornio soccer club. Nine years later, 8 members of Manchester United were among 23 deaths in a crash outside Munich airport in Germany. And in 1987, a plane carrying members of Alianza Lima crashed in the Pacific Ocean, killing 16 players and the team coach.

Olympic teams have not been spared. The United States ice figure skating team lost its entire 18-member team when it’s plane to Prague, Czechoslovakia crashed in Belgium. And then there was the US men’s boxing team, a group of 22 boxers aspiring to a shot at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, before the American government mandated a boycott of those Games. I wrote about that tragedy here.

The video below was taken just after their draw with San Lorenzo, which sent them to the Copa Sudaamericana finals, which was cancelled. Their elation only compounds the horrific sense of loss.

katsuya-takasu-with-members-of-the-nigerian-soccer-team
Dr Katsuya Takasu and the 2016 Nigerian soccer team in Rio.

They were training in Atlanta since early July, and expected to fly into Rio de Janeiro a few days prior to the opening of the Olympic Games. But when it was time for the Nigerian soccer squad to leave, they learned that the Nigerian government had not paid for their tickets to Brazil. Days were ticking down to their opening match on August 4, and still tickets had not been secured. Perhaps an indication of financial issues, the Nigerian coach had actually gone unpaid the previous five months.

Finally, funds were transferred, tickets were purchased and the Nigerian “dream team” as their fans called them landed in the jungle city of Manaus, Brazil at 2:19 pm on Thursday afternoon. Their first game was to take place less than 7 hours later against Japan. Exhausted, tense from the monumental worry that they might not make it to the stadium in time for their opening match, the Nigerians took the field. And to add insult to injury, the organizers played the wrong national anthem for Nigeria.

I watched that game against Japan. I had no idea what the Nigerian team had been through. But I do recall a very fast and energetic match – four goals were scored in the first two minutes, two apiece by each team. One would think, based on what we now know, that Nigeria would have faded into the Brazilian night. But in the second half, Nigeria continued to attack, tacking on three more goals to lead 5-2. Japan would indeed take advantage of Nigeria’s tired legs towards the end to pull within one, but Nigeria emerged victorious 5-4.

Enter Dr. Katsuya Takasu.

Takasu is a cosmetic surgeon who runs Takasu Clinic. For those of us who live in Japan, you can’t help but see his commercials, the latest one of him flying in a helicopter in Dubai, interacting with foreigners, punctuated at the end with him smiling into the camera saying his trademark “Yes! Takasu Clinic!”

He’s a cosmetic surgeon, so maybe you can forgive him for creating these somewhat solipsistic commercials. But no doubt, he’s an interesting person. Putting his money where his mouth is, he invested in surgery in his own face to demonstrate how dramatically younger he could make you look. In fact, he recorded his transformation and showed the world how he did it. It’s not a video for the weak of heart.

Of course, doctors are known to play golf. Takasu took that to an incredible level by setting a Guinness World Record for a pair of golfers – completing 261 holes in 12 hours (with the aid of a golf cart).

But more seriously, Takasu is generous with his money, and has developed a reputation as a philanthropist. In 1995, Takasu organized cosmetic surgeons in the aftermath of the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake in Japan, which killed over 6,000 people. He arranged for free plastic and reconstructive surgery to victims of the earthquake.

When Takasu heard about the plight of the Nigerian Dream Team, he launched into action. He went to the Nigerian Embassy in Tokyo with the intent of asking their help in sending the team USD200,000, with incentive bonuses if they medaled. He realized that it would be better if he hand delivered the contribution, so he promised to fly to Brazil and root them on to victory.

2016 Rio Olympics - Men's First Round - Group B Nigeria v Japan
Nigeria beats Japan in soccer in Rio.

As it turns out, Nigeria went on to defeat Sweden to make it to the quarterfinals, and then Denmark to make it to the semifinals. They finally lost to Germany, but then defeated Honduras to earn a bronze medal. Takasu arrived to award the Nigerian team a magnanimous sum of USD390,000.

The outpouring of gratitude from Nigerians was overwhelming. Oma Akatuba, a German-based Nigerian journalist, said this in his video.

This video is specially dedicated to a man who is not a Nigerian, to a man who is not an African, but saw something good in Nigeria. He saw something good in Nigerian football at a time when the Nigerian team at the Olympic Games was completely abandoned by the Minister of Sports, the Nigerian Football Federation, and of course the Nigerian government. This man came into the picture and donated a heavy sum of money to the Dream Team of Nigeria, winning bronze at the just-concluded Olympic Games in Brazil, Rio 2016. His name is Dr Katsuya Takasu.

For more enthusiasm from Nigeria, watch this rather entertaining video report from Adeola Fayehun, who begins her broadcast with a joyful “Praise him! Praise him!” in reference to Takasu.

What can you say, except “Katsuya Takasu – Yes!”