EDITORIAL: Spectacular off-field action

It is not often that we cover the topic of sports in our editorials, but it is the World Cup and we saw a story regarding the Japanese team that we just had to share.  Following a heart-breaking 3-2 loss to Belgium, which saw the team bow out of the competition in the Round of 16, the team and its fans demonstrated a remarkable show of sportsmanship and respect for the event’s host country, Russia. With tears in their eyes, the fans meticulously cleaned the areas of the stands that they’d occupied during the devastating loss in stoppage time.  Likewise, the team is reported to have left their dressing room spotless with a thank you note written in Russian.  Let that sink in for a while, especially if you are a sports fan living in Antigua and Barbuda. 

To get a greater understanding of this giant show of appreciation, remember, Japan led the match 2-0 in the second half before Belgium made an unlikely comeback to send the Japanese team packing in stoppage time.  There are few other scenarios that could have been more heartbreaking when it comes to a loss at the World Cup.  Yet, the defeated team and their fans took the time to put aside their disappointment and tears to clean the dressing room and the stadium and demonstrate that they are first-class.  To say that they left the World Cup with their dignity intact is an understatement.   They also left with a significant amount of positive international press.

If you’re like us, you probably immediately conjured-up what our response might, or might not be, to a loss of that magnitude.  How would the Benna Boys’ fans leave the stadium? And, what condition would the dressing room be in after we expressed our raging disappointment at a last minute goal?  As we flipped through the photographs of the Japanese fans crawling between the seats at the stadium, filling bags with garbage, we were amazed. Anyone who has ever been to a sporting event in Antigua and Barbuda would have to be amazed.  Heck, anyone who has been in the cinema when the lights come up would have to be amazed!

The most interesting thing is that that seems to be just what the Japanese do.  Even in celebration, they have gained a reputation for taking the time to leave their area of occupation spotless before popping the champagne.  They even walk with their own garbage bags!  That is a level of pride that is admirable and should be emulated.  Can you imagine if fans walked to the Antigua Recreation Ground or the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium with their own garbage bags and cleaned up after the event?  Stop laughing!  If the Japanese can do it, so can we.  It just takes some pride.

We will not be delusional and think that our people will adopt those characteristics in our lifetime, but if we look at progress in terms of baby steps, we can at least begin by throwing away our garbage in the receptacles provided rather than at our feet.  We are desperately trying to stay away from talking about our lazy, selfish propensity to indiscriminately litter, but it is hard.  We know that it is not everyone and we are being stereotypical, but there are too many who do not care.  So many in fact that, we are all branded as lacking civic pride.

We will go so far as to say that the tide seems to be against those who maintain a certain level of pride regarding the cleanliness of their surroundings.  They become frustrated and after a while, a few adopt an “if I can’t beat them, I will join them” attitude because they are tired of picking up after nasty people.  It is sad, but it is the reality, and we must do all that we can to stem that tide.

Sports can teach us a lot.  In this case, the Japanese football fans can teach us a lot.  We can either be known as a bunch of selfish, filthy sports fans or we can be admired for being respectful of ourselves and our neighbours by cleaning up after ourselves.  This, of course, transcends sports and should become part of our daily lives.  We constantly rant about the abundant litter and illegal dumpsites, but it is not getting any better because the root case (i.e. lack of pride) is not being addressed.  

Many around the world are envious of our tiny bit of paradise, but we show little pride in what we have.  That must stop!  When people visit our islands, we need to show them that we care about our home and they will do the same.  Likewise, when we visit their home, we should show that we respect theirs.  It is a circle of pride and respect.

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