Islands | A multihued archipelago, tuned to soccer’s harmonics

You see how beautiful it is on this island, but sometimes, too, it can be wild and deadly. We live here with that potential. —Haruki Murakami, “Hanalei Bay

Honolulu | Major League Soccer executives and tourism authorities sounded gloomy about long-term prospects for the Pan-Pacific Soccer Championships, blaming low attendance at Aloha Stadium on “sports fatigue” and inadequate marketing. Excitement over native son Barack Obama, who won Hawai‘i’s presidential caucus the day before the tournament started on Feb 20, meant soccerheads had to search even harder for news before the inaugural four-match event, featuring L.A. Galaxy, Houston Dynamo, Sydney FC and Gamba Osaka.

Organizers facilitated appearances by participating teams at Washington Middle School in Honolulu on Feb 18, part of the “Kick across Hawaii” program. (Jordan Murph | ppchampionship.net)

With a less-than-fit David Beckham failing to draw the customary sell-out crowd, MLS commissioner Don Garber seemed genuinely puzzled afterward. His endorsement of the tournament sounded tinny: “We want to see it continue,” Garber told the Honolulu Advertiser.

Eyes fixated on the bottom line, league marketers will not pause to appreciate how the archipelago’s racial and ethnic mixing offers the country’s best grassroots soccer setting. Obama’s backers, heralding the candidate’s presidential-preference sweep, promoted the “Aloha spirit” that gave him 76 percent of the vote among a record 37,000 caucus-goers. The Boston Globe reported:

Hawaiians boast that they have no ethnic majority. And many of them believe the state’s numerous nationalities and ethnicities—including native islanders, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, and whites such as Obama’s mother, who came here from Kansas, and Africans like his father, who came from Kenya—played a crucial role in shaping Obama’s unifying message.

Hawai‘i had been chosen over other venues, including Australia, as host. The MLS promotional arm, Soccer United Marketing, believes—along with previous generations of naval strategists—that success on the Islands presages success in Asia. The North American Soccer League placed a side, Team Hawaii, in Honolulu before the 1977 season, and one season was as long as it lasted. But filmmaker George Fosty credits Pelé‘s one appearance at Aloha Stadium—a 2–1 Cosmos victory—with a boom in the soccer culture, such that the working title of a documentary on Hawaiian soccer history is Pele’s Children (the pun with the name of the Hawai‘i volcano goddess is intended). The crowd for the Pelé match was surpassed Feb 23, when 23,087 attended the Gamba Osaka–Houston “final.”

For the Japanese locals especially—and the hundreds of supporters in train—Gamba Osaka‘s 6–1 triumph seemed appropriate on an island chain to which Japanese have immigrated since the 1880s. By the early 1920s, due to their desirability as workers on sugar and fruit plantations, the Japanese already formed the largest percentage of Hawai‘i’s population.

Page 1 of 4 | Next page