Women’s World Cup–A Kick In L’herbe

Love might be what’s in the air in Paris in the springtime, but soccer is what’s on Parisians’ minds this summer. France is hosting the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup now through July 7th. Even if you aren’t a soccer fan, there’s plenty to keep you entertained with this tournament. The event’s a real kick in the grass–or l’herbe if you speak French.

More into economic news than sports scores? Keep an eye on a big match ahead. The defending champions, the U.S. team, plays the host team, France, on Friday in a quarterfinal match at Parc des Princes in Paris. The face value for tickets to this match runs a reasonable $17 to $65 for world class action on the grass–er, l’herbe. But demand is high for these tickets. What happens when demand exceeds supply? You guessed it. The price for the supply skyrockets. Tickets are now being hawked on Stubhub.com for between $425 and $5,100. Forget grass. You’ll need loads of bread to afford those tickets.

Maybe you are more of a science fan than a soccer fan. The Women’s World Cup is being played under fascinating meteorological conditions. Earlier this week an intense heat wave built across portions of France. More than half of the country (including around Paris) is under an orange alert, the second highest intensity for potentially dangerous weather conditions. Forecasters are predicting France could set a new national heat record of around 113 degrees. The old record, set in 2003, was 111. This record-setting heat wave will provide high temperatures and humidity for the players to endure on the field as well as for the fans in the stands to stand. With a capacity crowd of 47,929 expected at Parc des Princes, thousands of fans will be longing for some fans blowing cool air on them.

Those who enjoy U.S. political news will not be disappointed with the Women’s World Cup. Although he is neither playing in it nor attending it, President Donald Trump is still grabbing headlines related to the tournament. He and the U.S. women’s team co-captain, Megan Rapinoe, are engaging in a war of words. Who? If you aren’t a sports fan, you may not be familiar with Megan Rapinoe’s name. But she sure is easy to spot on the field. She’s the player in the U.S. team uniform with light pink hair. Along with athletic workouts, Rapinoe prepared for the big even by dyeing her blond hair. Maybe she was feeling in the pink about the U.S. team’s chances of winning and wanted to look in the pink as well.

Although news reports haven’t focused on Rapinoe’s hair color, they have brought to President Trump’s attention that the U.S. team’s co-captain has for several years remained silent during the national anthem to protest inequality and injustice. Her silent protest continued when the “Star Spangled Banner” was played before the U.S. team’s opening match against Thailand. Trump did not feel this behavior was respectful and blasted Rapinoe on Twitter. Rapinoe shot back that she wouldn’t go to the “f***ing” White House if the team won the World Cup. Trump retorted Rapinoe should win first before worrying about celebrating at the White House. Anyone else feel like they are following a tennis match here? Don’t both Trump and Rapinoe have something better to do than tweet? Like run the country and prepare for the most anticipated match of the World Cup to date respectively?

Fans of reality TV shows, which always seem to involve squabbling and controversy, haven’t been disappointed with the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The match between England and Cameroon didn’t have “Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Boys,” but the losing team’s women exhibited some bad behavior. FIFA will be investigating the match as a result.

In case you missed it, England won the round of 16 match against Cameroon by a score of 3-0. But the real story of the game was the Cameroon players’ actions towards the referee and opposing players. They didn’t want to kick the ball on the grass; they pretty much made clear that they’d like to kick the poor official and their opponents. One Cameroon player was caught on video spitting toward an English player. Really? These are ADULTS playing? The players also showed their disenchantment with some officiating calls by deliberately fouling several players, refusing to kick off for several minutes, and arguing with the ref while huddled around the official. I don’t know if they forgot about trying to hold their breath until they turned blue….

The Women’s World Cup also provides the opportunity to sharpen one’s geographical knowledge. Interestingly, the group from which the U.S. emerged from the knockout round was comprised of four teams, all from a different continent. These teams were the U.S. (North American), Chile (South America), Thailand (Asia), and Sweden (Europe). Of the eight quarterfinalists left from the original field of 24, seven teams are from Europe–England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. The lone non-European team remaining is the U.S.

OK, sure, these are all large countries that (hopefully) most people might be able to pick out on a map. But what about the venues for the soccer matches in France?  Nine different stadiums are to be utilized during the tournament. Raise your hand if you can pick THESE locations out on a map of France: Grenoble, Le Havre, Lyon, Montpellier, Nice, Paris, Reims, Rennes, Valenciennes. I may not be able to pick it out exactly on a map, but I do recall from taking four years of French in high school that Nice is on the Cote d’Azur, the French Riviera. Sign me up to go there whether there’s a soccer game or not!

For all you material girls (or boys) out there, the World Cup provides a sparkly (and expensive) prize for the winner. To the victor goes a trophy. No, not just any trophy. A big, heavy, costly trophy. Whatever teams is left standing after the final match will be awarded a 19″ tall trophy weighing 10 pounds. Sterling silver and 23-karat yellow and white gold were utilized to make this shiny award. Yes, the Americans can truthfully say that they are going for the gold in this World Cup. Not a medal, but a magnificent trophy.

Only time will tell who will hoist that heavy trophy in the air come July 7th. In the meantime, let’s wring all we can out of the Women’s World Cup. We’ve got economics, weather, politics, geography, boorish behavior, and last but not least, some kick in l’herbe exciting sports play. I’ll be chanting “USA! USA!” as I peruse a map of France from my very affordable seat in front of my television with the AC running come Friday’s match against France. How about you?

JUST WONDER-ing:

Have you watched any of the 2019 Women’s World Cup or at least read about it? If you aren’t a sports fan, do you think you could still enjoy reading about or watching such a big world event? How important is good sportsmanship? Is the playing field the appropriate venue for political protests? Why or why not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wrapping Our Heads Around World Geography

We Americans like to think we are so smart. Why even tiny tots in this country know how to use a cell phone, change TV channels with  a remote, and play games on an iPad. Nevertheless, Americans are woefully deficient when it comes to knowledge of geography. We probably couldn’t figure out where Carmen Sandiego was on a map even if we were told the city and country where she was located.

My lack of geographical proficiency was brought to my attention back in April when I was in Washington, D.C. playing tourist. On my tourist bucket list was going down Embassy Row to check out all the foreign embassies. While I recognized the names of all the countries and could place them on the correct continent, I realized that I likely couldn’t point some of them out on a map or give pertinent information about them.

Let’s take Malawi, for example. Ding, ding, ding. Of course Malawi is in Africa. I knew that. OK, but what else do I know about Malawi–other than how to spell it? Um, nothing. Trying to rectify my ignorance, I pulled out a trusty geography textbook–not. I took a modern approach and did research about Malawi online. Perhaps one reason that I (and most likely you too) don’t know about Malawi is that it is among the world’s least developed countries; its economy is heavily based on agriculture. But surely you’re familiar with the country’s capital of Lilongwe. OK, OK. I didn’t know that either. Nor did I know off the top of my head that Malawi is a landlocked country in southeast Africa. Hanging my head in shame.

At least if I am geographically ignorant, I am in good company. The younger generation has been documented to be appallingly lacking in general geographic knowledge. In fact, nearly 75% of 8th graders tested below proficient in geography on the 2014 National Assessment Of Education Progress exam. And why should they be proficient? A majority of states today do not require geography courses in middle school or high school. Who needs such classes? I mean we all have a GPS on our cell phone, right? Siri can tell us where a city or country is located if we must know.

Sure we can rely on electronic devices to give us needed geographical information. But our understanding of the world around us and what is happening in it is much deeper if we know where current events are taking place. A truly informed person will have a basic understanding of not only WHAT is going on but WHERE it is occurring.

Let’s look at some news headlines from the past week to see what geographical locations we might need to know about. Anyone know where Fukuoka is and why it is in the news? More basic than that–WHAT is Fukuoka? Well, it’s a city which, before this week, I’d never heard of. I might have guessed it was in Japan, and I’d have been right. To my surprise I learned that Fukuoka is the sixth largest city in Japan. It’s located on the island of Kyushu, one of Japan’s largest islands.

Fukuoka was in the news because it was the setting for a meeting of the G-20 finance ministers. These economic bigwigs, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, needed to put their heads together to discuss revisions to trade rules and finances in light of technological change and protectionism. Given clashes between the U.S. and China (which countries we can ALL find on a map or globe) over trade and technology, the finance ministers are concerned about upsets to the global economy. Not sure why Fukuoka in particular was chosen for the meeting venue, although finance and Fukuoka both do begin with the letter “F.”

Not interested in world politics? How about sports? If so, you should know about Reims. Again, this is not a city about which I have ever heard. Reims is located about 85 miles northeast of Paris and is the unofficial capital of the Champagne wine-producing region. While I’m fairly sure we’ve all heard about that area, I doubt many of us could mark the spot where it’s located with an X on a map.

Some champagne was likely uncorked in Reims Tuesday when the U.S. opened its defense of the Women’s World Cup title with a win in a match against Thailand. Hurray for the red, white and blue! They blew away their opponent by a wide margin–13-0. This score is the most lopsided victory in World Cup history for either men or women. Shall we say the Thais got reamed? Or maybe Reimsed?

For those interested in planning a trip, recent news stories would give one pause when considering the Dominican Republic as a vacation destination. Perhaps you might want to know where that country is located so you can avoid it. Since last year several American tourists have suddenly fallen ill and died while at resorts in this Caribbean location. Furthermore, Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz was the victim of an attempted murder Sunday night outside a popular nightspot in his hometown of Santo Domingo, the country’s capital and largest city.

Looks like this island’s life involves death or brushes with it.Other than that, an informed person should know that the Dominican Republic is on the island of Hispaniola, an island it shares with Haiti. By area, the Dominican Republic is the second largest Caribbean nation after Cuba.

Let’s face it. The world may seem to be shrinking because we can probably call anyone anywhere in the world on a cell phone, connect with someone in a foreign country via the Internet, and see what’s happening on another continent in real time on CNN. But the seemingly smaller world contains people with large gaps in their geographical knowledge.

Sure, we can’t know everything about every place. But a good start to becoming geographically proficient is to take the time to determine where a place in the news is and some general information about it. And if we really want to go all out, we might consider having our kids taught some geography before they are sent out into the big wide world as adults.

JUST WONDER-ing: Did you take a geography class in high school? Do you think that geography should be a required subject? How geographically proficient do you think you are?

 

 

 

 

 

Getting A Kick Out Of The World Cup

While Americans are eagerly counting down the days until college football season begins, the rest of the world is going crazy over another type of football, i.e., what we call soccer.  The 21st FIFA World Cup is underway and will continue through July 15th.  It’s not March Madness–it’s match madness!

Even if you aren’t a sports fan, the World Cup offers plenty of opportunity for you to be entertained.  Not up on all the rules and procedures of the sport?  No problem.  Those who don’t know a yellow card from a greeting card can still get a kick out of the much ballyhooed World Cup series. Consider the following tidbits.

JUST THE FACTS.   Thirty-two countries are participating in the World Cup.  Thirty-one had to qualify, but the host team, Russia. got a pass.  This is the first World Cup to be held in Eastern Europe, so Russia is really PUTIN on a show. The host country has spared no expense, and, at a cost of around $14.2 billion, it will be the most expensive World Cup ever.  Matches are scheduled in 12 different stadiums in 11 different Russian cities. Moscow being so important, it has 2 stadiums located there.

SHOW ME THE MONEY!  If you think the 32 teams are playing simply for the love of the sport, you are naïve. The green in the player’s eyes is not the grass in the sports arena but the prize money available.  The team winning the World Cup receives $38 million dollars.  The runner up team takes home $28 million dollars to soothe the “close but no cigar” blues.  Teams who place 17th through 32nd receive a paltry $8 million.

THE SPACE RACE.   While Donald Trump is touting plans to start up a U.S. Space Force, Putin is leaving him in the space dust.  The June 14th opening ceremony for the World Cup featured the presentation of an official match ball which had been sent into space with the International Space Station crew (that’s ISS not to be confused with ISIS) back in March and returned to Earth in early June. That ball seen in the sky during that time may have been the match ball and not the moon.

LOOK, UP IN THE SKY!  While the soccer matches might provide nail-biting drama, just getting to the stadium can be pretty dramatic.  The Saudi Arabian national team’s plane experienced an engine malfunction on a flight to Rostov-on-Don.  Flames were seen coming out of one of the engines prior to the plane landing in the southern Russian city where a match against Uruguay was to be held. The team landed safely but apparently flamed out too soon as they lost to their South American opponent 1-0.

USE YOUR HEAD!  In the U.S. the phrase “use your head” is uttered to encourage someone to engage his brain when handling a situation.  But soccer players use their heads all the time to knock the ball around the field; sometimes their brains are not engaged when this heading occurs.  Take Morocco’s  poor Aziz Bouhaddouz for example. In a forehead slapping move, he headed the ball into his own team’s net to hand Iran a 1-0 victory over Morocco in the opening round of the World Cup. Oops!  And, yes, his blunder made HEAD-line sports news.

THE AGONY OF DE-FEET!  Iran may have had a win handed to them by Morocco, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the Iranians. Just days before their opening match, Nike, who was to provide cleats and footwear for them, announced it was withdrawing its support of the Iranian team due to global economic sanctions against Iran. You might be able to tiptoe through the tulips, but you need soccer shoes to play in World Cup matches.  Iranian players scrambled to beg, buy or (hopefully not) steal appropriate footwear.

NO GIRLS ALLOWED!  The more fans the merrier, right?  No, not in Iran where women have been banned from watching men’s sports for 38 years.  Iran’s clerics imposed this ban in 1979 following the Islamic revolution, but it was publicly reinforced in the country earlier this year. Iranian fans protested the ban during Iran’s opening World Cup match against Spain when banners reading #NoBan4Women” and “Support Iranian Women to Attend Stadiums” were unfurled. Thank goodness the Iranian players found footwear so (GASP!) the Iranian women who are no doubt secretly watching their televised matches did not gaze upon any bare male feet.

THE SPY WHO ROOTED FOR ME!  Due to the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil, Britain announced that no British ministers and no British royals would be attending any World Cup events.  No mention was made as to whether any British spies would be on hand to keep an eye on things.  If they are, they might return from Russia with–no, not love–but some good intel.

Like it or not, the World Cup will be dominating sports news until mid-July.  If you can’t get a kick out of watching the ball being kicked around a Russian stadium, you can still get a kick out of the interesting news surrounding the World Cup events.  You can have a ball either way!

Just WONDER-ing:  Are you planning to watch any of the World Cup?  If so, for what team are you rooting?  If not, would you be watching if the U.S. was playing in it?