Operation Christmas Message

Over 200,000 people have been killed during an ongoing conflict in Colombia that pits the government, paramilitary groups and crime organizations against left-wing groups as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) and ELN (The National Liberation Army). For over fifty years, guerillas hiding deep in the jungle have been playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game, and the government has tried everything to bring them out of the jungles and send them home to their families.

They have even tried an advertising campaign, the likes of which you might see in a mall or on YouTube, to market a company or its products. In this case, the campaign has been powerfully effective.

The goal has been to get FARC and ELN guerrillas to demobilize, and thus weaken the guerrilla bands. The appeal has been to their hearts. And what better way to appeal to the hearts of Colombians is through Christmas and soccer. As explained in this December 11, 2016 60 Minutes report, the Colombian military hired a creative ad executive named Jose Miguel Sokoloff in 2006 to create a campaign that would convince members of FARC to go home.

On December 10, 2010, the military and Sokkoloff launched an advertising campaign called “Operation Christmas,” in which 9 very tall trees were decorated with lights that would only turn on if the motion-detection sensor noticed movement in that area. So if a FARC guerilla walked by one of those designated trees, it would light up like the proverbial Christmas Tree. At the same time, another light would shine on a sign that read:

If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilize. At Christmas, everything is possible.

As Sokoloff explained in 60 Minutes, “What we did was try to make coming back home for Christmas an important thing. And we knew that if we put up these Christmas trees with that sign up there, we would touch the hearts of the guerrillas, ‘cause my heart was touched. And they went and they did it.”

The result of that campaign was that over 300 guerillas, about 5% of the total, left the jungle and surrendered.

The following year, the Colombian military staged “Operation Rivers of Light,” another campaign to reach further into the jungle by floating plastic balls that contained messages and gifts to the guerillas. They also lit up with soft purple light, to send another powerful message of peace and beauty into the heart of the jungle. Some 7,000 of those balls resulted in the demobilization of another 180 guerillas.

Another campaign was also launched in 2011, in conjunction with the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which happened to be hosted by Colombia from July 29 to August 20. As Sokoloff said, football moves this country. Football is our passion.” So during this campaign, soldiers had thousands of soccer balls signed by players and celebrities and fans. Theses balls – all with a sticker saying “Demobilize. Let’s play again” – were thrown from helicopters into the jungle, resulting in another wave of guerillas leaving the jungle.

Sokoloff claims that over eight years of this campaign, 18,000 guerillas have come home, and got FARC to the bargaining table.

Still FARC and ELN fight for survival in the jungles, soldiers and guerillas die. But still negotiations continue as the government and FARC look to find peace.

Perhaps it will be quiet today in Colombia, for it is Christmas, and family calls.

Akwasi Frimpong

He slept on the ground of his crowded home as a child, his grandmother working hard to get food on the table for nine grandchildren. Akwasi Frimpong grew up in a village called Kumasi in the Republic of Ghana, and while he aspired to a better life, he probably had no thought of becoming an Olympian in the speed sliding sport of skeleton.

Skeleton Olympic champions have emerged from only 8 countries in the world, including the US, Great Britain, Canada, Russia and Switzerland. Certainly, running full speed into an icy track of twists and turns, head first on a tiny sled, is not the first thing 99.99999% of the world’s population would try to do, let alone think, particularly in a country where the coldest it gets is about19 degrees Celsius.

And yet Frimpong defied the considerable odds, and has put himself in a position to become Ghana’s first ever Winter Olympian representing his country at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in the skeleton competition. To become an Olympian, he has to qualify at the skeleton world cup in mid-January of 2018 by getting into the Top 60 in the world. If he does, he’s going to South Korea.

Perhaps Frimpong’s first big break was leaving Ghana at the age of 8, and move to the Netherlands where his mother had emigrated to. In a more developed economy with more opportunities, Frimpong was shaped by his coach at his junior high school into a track star.

His second big break was having Sammy Monsels as his junior high school coach, a man who competed as a sprinter at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics. According to this article on Olympic.org, Monsels created a vision for Frimpong.

“It was Sammy who really instilled the dream of the Olympics in me. Within two months, I went to the Dutch Junior Indoor Championships and missed out on the 60m final by 0.01 seconds. That summer, I missed out on the 100m final, again by 0.01 seconds… I asked my coach what I needed to do to become a gold medalist. He spoke to me about self-discipline and it all started from there.

Frimpong went on to become the 200 meter Dutch junior champion. But because he was still an illegal alien, he could not benefit from any international competition. What if immigration would not let him back into the country? Competing overseas was too big a risk. And his illegal status stopped him from asking to enter any high school. Fortunately, there existed an institution that looked beyond Frimpong’s legal status – the Johan Cruyff Institute. Named after Holland’s (and the world’s) most famous soccer player, Johan Cruyff, this school is designed to develop the abilities of students, athletes as well as business professionals.

Frimpong’s third break was to have a neighbor who cared. The neighbor was a writer, and she wrote so persuasively, even explaining Frimpong’s illegal status, that the Johan Cruyff College took a chance on the Ghanaian. Frimpong enter the school and earned his school’s international student of the year award. The award was to be presented in Barcelona, Spain, but because Frimpong was too scared to leave the country, Johan Cruyff himself flew to Holland just to present the award to Frimpong.

Eventually, in 2008, at the age of 22, Frimpong became a Dutch citizen. He got an athletic scholarship to study in America at Utah Valley University, and dreamed of making the Netherlands track team for the 2012 London Games. But he was not able to qualify, hampered by an injury.

Entering the second half of his 20s, his dreams of running track in the Olympics was fading. But he got a visit from the Dutch bobsleigh team, and was asked to try out as their brakeman for a World Cup race in Utah. Frimpong showed enough promise that he progressed to make the Netherlands national bobsleigh team. Unfortunately, his results were just under the cut, and Frimpong missed out on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

At the age of 28, failing to make both a Summer Olympics and a Winter Olympics, Frimpong could have ended his pursuit of an Olympic Games. And that’s when he discovered skeleton. And for some reason, this sport clicked.

I set myself the goal of becoming the first African to win a medal in Winter Olympic history. I knew it would take me four to six years to become really good, so initially my target was the 2022 Games. But when I started racing in 2016, I surprised myself. A lot of coaches said that I was sliding like someone who had been doing the sport for several years.

And so Frimpong is at the door of his long journey to make the Olympics. If he does qualify for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, he will be first black skeleton athlete in Olympic history.

 

Note on February 2, 2018: On January 15, 2018, he got his wish and is headed for the Olympics.

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