There are few enough human activities that breathe by facilitating a cheek-by-jowl proximity of euphoria and despair. Sport is one — as myriad examples will show this weekend.
Golf fans, tennis fans, hurling and football fans, cricket fans, soccer fans, and racing fans too can all find something, some do-or-die contest to be harmlessly, wildly irrational, wonderfully partisan about. However, because of the weekend that’s in it, one event may stand out. It, for many reasons, probably deserves to.
Tomorrow evening in France, America and the Netherlands meet in the Women’s World Cup soccer final in Lyon. And what a joyous journey it has been to reach this point. It is not necessary to turn to the never-ending dreaming that sets fans’ love for sports apart from the mundane to acknowledge that this tournament seemed just a little bit special. For once, the marketing department’s “carnival” tag was justified.
One reason, maybe one more important than is immediately apparent, was that it reminded the world of the better, brighter side of America. On a week when President Trump used July 4 for a hokey “Salute to America” circus in the shadow of a statue of Lincoln while immigrants are interned in appalling conditions, any reminder of America’s humanity must be cherished. That is especially so as the jamboree was hijacked by Mr Trump’s campaign to for re-election.
However, Mr Trump has not had it all his own way. America’s captain Megan Rapinoe has urged teammates to “think hard” about associating themselves with him. The 34-year-old was embroiled in a row with Mr Trump after she said “I’m not going to the ******* White House”, should her team win tomorrow.
Rapinoe, who is gay, has attacked Mr Trump, saying he is sexist and misogynistic. She became one of the first athletes to join Colin Kaepernick’s protest by kneeling during her national anthem. That, from an American perspective at least, shows that sport and politics always mix no matter how some pretend otherwise.
Rapinoe has delivered on and off the field, securing her and her team’s status, a status established by being on the cusp of history with the possibility of a fourth World Cup to add to four Olympic golds.
The impression that the games were free, to a large degree anyway, of the cynicism that undermines the men’s game was a real bonus. Neymar’s theatrics were absent, all of which added to the attraction. This reached a high point earlier this week when the semi-final between the US and England was the most watched British broadcast of the year.
However, the tournament’s greatest achievement was one of inclusion. It celebrated LGBT rights in a wonderful way — in stark contrast to the men’s game. The 2022 men’s World Cup will be held in Qatar, one of 14 or so countries that imposes the death penalty for homosexuality, another fact that brings shame on those who awarded the tournament to the oil fiefdom.
Just as Rapinoe challenged Mr Trump, the tournament’s inclusivity showed Vladimir Putin’s claim about the end of liberalism for the empty, insecure sneer it was. This tournament takes place at a very important moment and is on the right side of history. May the best women win.