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Catching Up, Part II: Asia
Playing the home side in 62,000-capacity Workers' Stadium, Iraq's energizing run through the Asian Cup ended today in the quarterfinals, 3–0. Coach Adnan Hamd, who replaced the departed Bernd Stange, apologized afterward that Iraq goalkeeper Ahmed Ali had pushed Manchester City's Sun Jihai to the ground toward the end of the contest, and that a melee had ensued. Ali was sent off. Hamd will take the same under-23 side to Athens in two weeks, knowing that two group-stage victories over

China issued this stamp of Workers' Stadium as part of a series commemorating the 1989 Asian Games.
Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia lifted the country, especially following a grisly Wednesday (28 July), when 70 were killed in a suicide car-bomb attack north of Baghdad. "The players were very shocked," Hamd said on Thursday. "All the players were talking about it at breakfast today." Iraqis had been shooting guns into the air on Monday following the win over Saudi Arabia, the same team they had beaten in May to advance to the Olympics (see Jackie Spinner, "In Midst of Chaos, Sweet Victory," Washington Post, 27 July). Iraq has been playing its home qualifiers in Jordan while the U.S. military uses the stadium in Baghdad to park tanks. Firas Salem, who works in a central Baghdad barber shop, told the Washington Post that he already noticed a new confidence among the players: "They used to fear when they played. It wasn't sport. Now they play for their own interest." A 15-year-old boy said "[t]he important thing now is our players will never have to put Saddam's picture on their shirts. "

Iraq has been the story of the event until today, but Sepp Blatter and FIFA minions stopped the presses before the tournament by declaring officially that China had invented football. Tsu chu or cu ju is the alleged progenitor, dated to the Qin Dynasty (220–206 B.C.E.), if not before, and placed in the kingdom's capital, Linzi. The goal of tsu chu was to kick a ball through an opening into a small net, which was fixed onto erected bamboo canes. "Thank you China as the birthplace of football," Asian Football Confederation secretary-general Peter Velappan proclaimed at China Football Expo 2004 ("FIFA Boss Hails China as Football Birthplace," People's Daily, 16 July). "Football started in China and the sport's future belongs to Asia. Now I will ask the [Chinese Football Association] to work with FIFA and AFC to establish a museum and further establish related courses in college." Now that the question of football's beginnings has been put to rest, we can all sleep fitfully.

Beyond the Asian Cup, Asia's place in the world game continues to come to prominence. Efforts of Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to acquire a 30 percent stake in Liverpool football club fell through (see Michael Elliott, "The Appeal of the Familiar," Time Asia, 17 May), but Thai liquor Have fun, grab a Changbaron Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi closed an endorsement agreement with Everton. Everton home and away shirts this season will bear the two-headed elephant logo (right) of Chang Beer (see Amy Kazmin, "Thai Brewer Signs Landmark UK Football Deal," Financial Times, 7 July). The agreement allows Everton to gain valuable exposure in the Far East, while Thai footballers will travel to Everton academy for training. The more radical $112 million deal between Liverpool and the Thai government, which would have been paid for through a national lottery, was seen as a bit too bizarre. Kazmin writes that "the scheme provoked vehement opposition from Thai social conservatives, consumer groups and other critics." Hearts FC of the Scottish Premier League, meanwhile, have also been pursuing links with Thailand, with commercial deals and player exchanges part of the conversations (Paul Kiddie, "Hearts Out to Thai Up Talent," Edinburgh Evening News, 8 July). Such initiatives might or might not please the ever-present Blatter, who spoke before the Asian Cup about the advantages of European clubs lending talent to Asian leagues, rather than the reverse. The idea will be up for discussion at a FIFA meeting in October (James Kynge, "Send Football's Young Stars to Play in Asia, Says FIFA Chief," Financial Times, 17 July).

Players may not be exported from Europe to Asia in great numbers, but their images have become familiar. The BBC World Service in June broadcast a program ("TV Invasion"; direct link to the audio is available here) chronicling the influence of television in Bhutan, where legal broadcasts began in 1999. The launch of a domestic broadcasting concern and cable TV followed from the 1998 World Cup final, watched by thousands on a big screen in Bhutan's National Square. Football's attraction to the Tibetan monks confabulateBhutanese and to Himalayan cultures has become common knowledge through the Bhutanese-produced, lama-directed film The Cup, and through the 2002 documentary The Other Final (see The Global Game's interview with director Johan Kramer). But the BBC documentary—as well as a similar program for the U.S.-based Public Broadcasting Service ("Bhutan—The Last Place," Frontline/World, May 2002)—presents a sobering view of daily habits and liturgies interrupted by the TV-fueled interest in the West. The programs are full of depressing comments, such as that from Tintin Dorji, son of Bhutan's cable entrepreneur: "When we had no TV, I used to play with my dog a lot. But now I prefer to watch television." "When football is on, people now stay up very late," says Deychan Dema, who works in the offices of Sigma Cable Service (Orville Schell, "Gross National Happiness," Red Herring, 15 January 2002). Internet service was also inaugurated at about the same time as television. Now, says Kinlay Dorjee, "Suddenly we find ourselves stuck in front of so many screens! It has become a kind of compulsion, so that we feel it was almost like ignoring God, or Buddha, to not answer our screens!"

'Mighty Iron Leg' Kicks Sweet-Bun Habit
Long deprived, American audiences can now thrill to Stephen Chow's high-flying Siu lam juk kau (Shaolin soccer). New York Times reviewer Elvis Mitchell refers in his
Click for film website
The Siu lam juk kau website on the "hooking leg" technique: "[G]yrate around your body's central axis, break it down, and get funky with your bad self."
opening paragraph to the film's three-year journey to U.S. cinemas, noting that the mo lei tau–genre martial-arts comedy is "fatty, chewy and funny—and slightly gamy, given the amount of time it sat on the shelf" ("Chop-Socky, Thy Name Is Stephen Chow," 2 April). Like other Chow films—he has made more than 50, to become a major player in Hong Kong cinema (see Dave Kehr, "Fearlessly Taking Martial Arts to the Soccer Field," New York Times)—Shaolin Soccer is apparently its own animal, with Chow as Sing, a kung fu and football master with a corrosive affinity for sweet buns. Bun chef Mui (Vicki Zhao) plays an important role as Sing's love interest, as Sing gathers down-and-outers for a pivotal match with Team Evil. Chow tells Miramax publicists that football training did not occupy much of his one-year preparation for playing the role: "I kick-boxed and jogged almost every single day. Of course, I sustained quite a few injuries as well since I spent half the time on wires." One must therefore acknowledge that Shaolin Soccer is not intended for the football purist. "Two young men sitting directly behind me were in hysterics the entire film," writes reviewer Richard Horgan, "luxuriating in the stream of inside references to Bruce Lee, classic kung fu films and Japanese anime. This pair, without a doubt, represents the film's core audience."

  • Pyongyang, North Korea | 15 October 2003 . . . Makers of the documentary Game of Their Lives—about North Korea's 1-0 upset of Italy at the 1966 World Cup—tell the Amateur Athletic Foundation's (Los Angeles) SportsLetter Stallone in "Victory": One of the best?that they are being allowed "total and unrestricted access to daily life" in creating a new documentary, about North Korean gymnasts. Director Dan Gordon and producer Nick Bonner had been permitted rare interviews with the North Korean players while making Game. A depressing aspect of their work is that there has been no U.S. distribution. It is "really upsetting as it has been shown worldwide (including North Korea and South Korea)," says Bonner. "Is this censorship? . . . We believe that what the film has captured is the spirit and humor of a much-maligned people. The film allows the 'outside world' to see Koreans as individuals, as real human beings." Odd that Bonner lists Victory (Escape to Victory in the U.K.), with Sylvester Stallone and Pelé, as one of his favorite football films. Can he be serious? . . . Football in the Americas will be the focus of a conference from 30–31 October in London. Among the presenters is Alex Bellos, author of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life. He will speak on Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil's recently elected president, and the nation's first "fan-president." "Football is part of his life," Bellos writes in his abstract. "[H]e plays it at the presidential palace on weekends, and he conspicuously supports a club, Corinthians."
  • Dalian, China | 14 August 2003 . . . FIFA reports that the Chinese women's national team (the "Steel Roses," or "Iron Roses," depending on the translation) has been training with men's side Dalian Shide, losing 5-1 on 6 August to Dalian's reserves. The article offers insight into the Chinese women's stern regimen leading to the Women's World Cup: 10 400-meter sprints per day, plus another 10 kilometers of running per day. "Even the goalkeepers have to run seven or eight kilometers," says goalkeeper Xiao Zhen. China has upcoming friendlies with Nigeria, Australia and South Africa. (See issue 7 of The Global Game for more on Chinese women's football.)
  • Bangkok |12 August 2003 . . . Real Madrid concluded its Asia tour with a 2-1 victory over Thailand. According to reports, Zinedine Zidane, as is his custom, masterfully created space in midfield; however, more space needed to be created outside Rajamangala Stadium, where traffic was a bear. The Nation, a Bangkok daily, reports that congestion was lighter on the klongs (canals): "Although there are no traffic lights on the Saen Saeb canal, there is a down side to travelling by boat. . . . [T]he smell of the filthy canal water is almost overwhelming." | back to top