Outer Limit: More Notes on Losers

Cameroon’s performances in the group matches hinted at the possibility that they might explore the outer limits of the possible. Every game they’ve played in this tournament has been characterized by the sense that anything might happen. They played the edge until it wasn’t playable.

They lost to the Netherlands (3-1) in a match that had the audience riveted. The pace and intensity of that game was glorious. I saw players race around the pitch with a tornado like intensity. They were really good at loosening the ball from their opponent’s intention and exploiting the chaotic episodes of a match. Canada shut them out (3-0), but Cameroon fought from start to finish. They made Canada work. They beat New Zealand (2-1) in a barn-burner, scoring on literally the last touch of the match. One of their players was stretchered off the field at the end of the match: she had collapsed from exhaustion.

At the group stage, they played by tearing the game open — they can appear very emotional but that emotion doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of control. I think they like discombobulating their opponents —  some teams work like that. They’ll push — literally — and how you perform against them has a lot to do with how you respond to the provocation. I don’t think any of their opponents (even the ones that beat them) really played “their” game. It felt like Cameroon was authoring these matches, even from the losing side.

England’s first goal was the direct result of Cameroon’s mistake: Ejangue, in a scramble in front of the goal, kicked the ball into the keeper’s hands — a miserable mistake — Houghton converted the indirect free-kick. Cameroon seemed to feel the call against them was somehow not fair — I would say it was more humiliating than unjust and that the refusal to acknowledge this mistake was a very bad sign.

England scored again just as VAR-enhanced extra-time wound down: the goal was initially waved off as off-side but then awarded after VAR review corrected an indisputably bad call. Cameroon nearly stopped playing; for a good bit, they refused to kick-off.

photo debating the ref.png

Apparently, after all that, at half time, Cameroon’s coach, Alain Djeumfa, told players that the referee wanted England to win.

THEN, at the start of the second half, the truly incredible Nchout Ajara scored — only to have VAR take that goal back because a sliver of her heel (her back was to the goal) had crossed the line. The validity of that call is debatable.

The misery that ensued made me think of the following: When you get a red card, you have to leave the field — not just the field of play. You have to remove yourself from the game entirely. This happens because there is a real risk of fighting if that player doesn’t go to the locker room. It is a very, very bad idea to let a struggling team that feels like they’ve been cheated stand on the field contemplating the injustice of a bad decision while referees commune with the VAR apparatus. A better team, a more grounded team, a team with a stable situation, a team that trusted the refereeing might use that time to center themselves. But this team was convinced the fix was in.*

Cameroon’s coach was dropped into this position in January, after the team’s head coach and goalkeeping coach were unceremoniously fired. Why? Federation politics? Is it related to the political situation in Cameroon (Anglophone regions are threatening to secede)? Is is corruption? Were they cleaning house or the opposite? I would love to know the answer to that.

In any case, Cameroon’s players were not concerned by the question as to why none of them were given red cards — an elbow to the face, a cynical tackle which might have broken an ankle, the shove of the referee’s back, spitting on an opponent, refusing to get off the pitch at half time — the players had been tempting that fate from the start of the game and they were all spared.

And for all but the opening minutes of the second half, England did not let themselves get sucked in by the game’s drama. They very nearly paid for the few minutes they lost that focus.

People who haven’t spend much time with women athletes may find that Cameroon’s combination of attitude, playing style and tactic challenges their ideas about the women’s game. People who only watch the most intensely regulated and produced versions of the sport might have been shocked by what they saw on television. But people who watch a lot of the sport and who have played it will know that things like this can happen — in a way, the game is actually always threatening to fall apart and it takes a lot of effort on the part of match officials, event producers, coaches, support staff and players to give viewers a good game.

When a team starts to feel that the game is fixed, and that all is hopeless, they have to actively fight off the desire to stop playing. So very many national teams in the women’s game must struggle with this.

We might judge the Cameroonian side harshly, but we can do that with compassion—and perhaps use this moment to appreciate the losers who have lost well — to send some good wishes to teams like Nigeria, Thailand and especially to Brazil, who lost their match against France last night. An incredible constellation of stars are rotating out of the sky.

 

 

*a side note: in a very, very corrupt sport we should pause and reflect before dismissing players for feeling this way.

Composition

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 1.25.13 PM

THENJIWE NIKI NKOSI, ROUTINE, 2019 Oil on canvas. 35 7/8 x 39 3/8 x 1 7/8 in. Series: Gymnasium

I am very interested in how artists engage, represent and work with the structural and formal dimensions of a sport.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi’s Gymnasium series does just this. As is typical for Nkosi’s work, the canvas is clean, tight. It feels composed but also like a space meant for bodies and movement and, here, judgement.

So pleased to have happened on a tweet from art critic Rianna Jade Parker, in which she shared an image from this series.

Their Loss, Our Loss

As the USWNT moved from dominating Thailand to obliterating them, people watching the game wondered, “is this OK?” Shouldn’t there be a mercy rule? As players and supporters celebrated the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th goals, people wondered — are those goal celebrations…necessary?

There are many ways to answer that question. The importance of goal differentials to establishing one’s path out of a group is the easiest. Other teams playing Thailand in the group will likely score a lot. Any attempt on the part of teams in the group to collaborate in capping scoring against Thailand would also challenge the rules governing the game — while this is certainly the decent thing to do in amateur league play, it’s not the kind of community-oriented practice supported within a World Cup tournament.

There are, however, other angles into this match’s scenario.

Some of us have played in games like this. There are the games in which one’s team scarcely touches the ball. Games where, for example, a team might pass the ball amongst themselves while limiting each player to two touches. In which they might, oh, count off each pass they complete—turning your game into their drill. Last night’s situation may be unheard of at the highest levels but it isn’t terribly unusual for an amateur league.

When your opponent is at a level you would normally never get close to, it’s possible to play, lose big, and to take a lot from that experience. But you won’t get that kind of experience from a team that withholds its game from you.

For the USWNT team to stop scoring in that game, they would have needed to abandon any pretense towards attacking. They would have needed to turn a World Cup match into a drill. That is actually, in my view, not respectful to opposing players.

It is also makes for terrible television. That sort of thing is, for the spectator, even worse than the one-sided win.

Last night, the USWNT played as they play. Thus the Thai-American player Miranda Nild described it as “amazing” and “as a really cool experience.”

Pushing back against those who chastise US players for scoring too much, and – horrors — for enjoying scoring lots of goals — numbers of people have been pointing to similar kinds of results in the men’s game. Generally, men are not criticized for the lopsidedness of their wins, nor is their affect and composure monitored in the same way. But their losses are also very different. When Brazil collapsed in their 2014 World Cup semifinal, giving up five goals in the first half, we experienced that collapse quite differently than we experienced Thailand’s loss. Brazil’s loss manifested as an existential crisis. It was a spectacular melt-down; a shame spiral of epic proportion. We conjured a thousand reasons for that collapse, none of those explanations, however, centered on the team’s ability. The mess of that game, in fact, was all the more spectacular because we know those players, we know what they can do.

Last night’s match was a different experience entirely; we glimpsed the systematic debilitation of the women’s game. There is a lot of nobility to Thailand’s performance. Being up for a game like that takes a ridiculous amount of fortitude. But there is nothing noble about the state of the women’s game globally — even the world’s most privileged players are fighting for equal treatment within their federations. Let us remember that last year’s golden boot winner hasn’t played for her national team in two years because she expects her national team program (Norway) to be as professional as her club team (Lyon). USWNT players are suing their federation; Thailand and Jamaica’s teams are supported by private benefactors who are compensating for the lack of support the programs get from their federations; Afghanistan’s players were subjected to horrifying abuse; women’s teams are less likely get the money they earn in competition (and the money they earn is insanely less than that earned by men); federation official will give coaching positions to friends of friends who use the team to feed their egos while the federation turns away from the program’s losing record. You will find struggles against material forms of inequity at every level of the women’s game. (See Shireen Ahmed’s blistering statement on this fact.)

There are a lot of reasons to feel angry about that game. The way the USWNT played is not one of them. We should not feel shame for the losers, or for the winners. That shame, in my view, belongs entirely to FIFA and to mainstream sports media — which honestly, even now, when it is doing so much more than it used to, still does so very little serious reporting regarding the corruption, incompetence and abuse that hinders the development of the women’s game.

I can imagine a situation in which teams might collaborate in refusing to produce a lopsided result. This action would not be staged in order to spare Thai players a humiliating loss. It would be a protest, a labor action — the athlete’s version of a work-slowdown. In such a game, women might pass the ball to each other. They might refuse to defend but also refuse to score. Thai players might abandon the pretense of defending, and lose even bigger. These actions, however, only make sense for teams committed to destroying the World Cup as we know it!

France-US-Thailand-WWCup-Soccer-600x379

 

 

The View from Montpellier

From start to finish, from the stands, the Canada-Cameroon game had an “anything can happen” feeling to it. Cameroon were interesting to watch. A controlled chaos; tornadoes tearing up the game to, in essence, free the ball from any sense of team intention. This was, of course, the problem as once the ball was theirs, they got smothered.

buchanan-goal-helps-canada-to-win-over-cameroon-in-world-cup-opener_5cfecc251668c

Both Cameroon and Canada played heavy, physical defense. Canada seemed to struggle with the ball — some strange touches, passes too heavy and too light. I couldn’t tell if that was nerves, the pressure the Lionesses were providing, or the slick surface. But they got the job done. Overall, for me, the match was a lot of fun to watch.

Mosson isn’t huge; so even though the crowd was a meh-10,000, the atmosphere was great. Everyone was in good spirits, even though it rained, got very cold and windy. Many of us left our seats to watch from covered bits; but we all stayed till the bitter end because, again, it felt from start to finish like Cameroon might punch through Canada’s back line. But they didn’t.

The last time I was at Stade de la Mosson, it was to see Zidane play for France, against Côte d’Ivoire, just after he’d announced his return to the international game. SO, that was a while ago. It’s an Aunty of a stadium.  To my eye, the stadium’s design invokes a late 1970s/1980s sense of the future. Metal, cement. The color orange. The sort of vision of the future that has always felt dated.

The stadium is much in the local news; if I understand things correctly, MHSC (Montpellier Hérault Sport Club) is pushing, with city leaders, for a new stadium. La Mosson was constructed in the 70s and essentially rebuilt for ’98; it has gotten some renovations since but not a proper, complete overhaul. A couple years ago, plans for a comprehensive revision of the stadium were abandoned in favor of building a new sports complex on the other side of the city.

The stadium is very much attached to the life of the neighborhood; this is the source of local ambivalence about moving MHSC from Mosson. The stadium is often at the center of conversations about the city’s efforts to “rehabilitate” this grossly underserved neighborhood — La Paillade.  La Paillade, historically, has been a home for recent immigrants, refugees, and the working-poor. According to a recent article describing police efforts to “take back” the neighborhood, La Paillade “is home to 21,600 people, 46% of whom are under the age of 25, 75% do not have a high school diploma, and 57% live below the poverty line.”

870x489_20170206_115658

The neighborhood is basically “the projects” of Montpellier, featuring regularly in local crime reports and in national discourse about dangerous neighborhood. It is characterized by tall residential tower blocks (some of which are right next to the stadium). These are being emptied, destroyed and rebuilt. The  beginning of the neighborhood’s rehabilitation/development was signaled by the installation of good tram service and its renaming in official lingo as “Mosson” — the latter makes clear the material and symbolic entanglement of the stadium to the project of improving the quality of life for people living near it. At various points, it looked like la Mosson was slated for destruction but now it seems it’s to stay — to what purpose is unclear, beyond a sense that it would continue to “provide employment for local people who need it“.

Over the past two decades Montpellier itself has seen an enormous amount of building, and gentrification. No part of the city is untouched. The story of this stadium is clearly bound up with the speculative energies that swirl all that.

This month, the city’s mayor was supposed to lay a symbolic first stone on the site of the new stadium. That event was cancelled: they’ve had to relocate the whole project because that site did not pass feasability/community impact tests. The original intention, it seems, was to locate the stadium near the new TGV station on the city’s periphery. Sounds…ok? Until you learn that this station is itself a big scandal: only 8 kilometers from the city center, this new station has no direct train/metro service to the city center! So, not only can you not get to/from the center of Montpellier easily, you also can’t connect with regional trains. An October news article describes the station as deserted.  In any case, the original site chosen to replace La Mosson was near this station and really much harder to get to on public transport. One would describe that part of the city’s periphery as a switchpoint for people who are coming from one place and going to another, but not going to Montpellier. It’s the sort of place where you put, oh, an Ikea. It’s next to the airport.

supporters-1Speaking of IKEA: the powers will now try to locate the stadium at L’Odysseum. A few miles from the original proposed sites, this place is as close to an American-style big box shopping and large venue complex as you’ve find in France. It is where you’ll find the area’s IKEA. It is, at least, well-serviced by the tram. It’s better than the dead train station idea.

In any case, the debate here rages on. The region’s center-left Green party launched a petition to keep MHSC’s stadium its original neighborhood. Local papers feature discussions on the subject. Conversations about La Mosson, furthermore, are often shaped by ideas about La Paillade.  The head of MHSC says, that one way or another, the club won’t stay in the old stadium. 

SO, one should see the petition to save La Mosson as more than a neighorhood’s nostalgic attachment to its team. It is a defense of a sense of value and quality of life centered on cultivating connections between people living and working at the margins of the 21st economy. It strikes me as a rightfully critical take on the public-private, nontransparent financing deals that are pushing these big development projects forward with nary a concern for the people who will be most impacted by them. 

I’m still trying to figure this story out. The general gist: Welcome to France!

 

Crowd Out

A friend texted me just before the start of the Champions League Final — someone gave him last minute tickets to a performance of David Lang’s Crowd Out, did I want to go? I ran out the door.

“Crowd Out” was inspired by the stadium noise at a football match; it involves dozens (hundreds?) of performers located throughout the crowd. 1000 people participated in the performance above; it was hard to get a sense of their numbers in Disney Hall. Sitting amongst them gave you a sense of being not just surrounded by but absorbed in a social body voicing its own aural script — the sum of so very many parts. The experience at Walt Disney Hall was thrilling — the concert hall’s seating is very close to stadium-seating in its layout. You are encircled by a crowd-chorus. The lyrics cycle through expressions of loneliness. The composition manages to achieve the sense of a stadium crowd — it has rhythms very much like that of a football match. It only runs the length of a half, however — I was back home in time for the second half of the final. That second half wasn’t nearly as thrilling as this performance. Honestly, this is one of the strongest sports-related performances I’ve ever, ever seen.

The video above is from its premier in Birmingham — experiencing this in a public space like that would be astonishingly beautiful and moving.

You Got to Run

 

I am very happy to share this 2017 collaboration between Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tagaq honoring champion musher George Attla. File under music that makes you feel forward motion — a kind of unrelenting forward motion. Inspiring.

High Gloss Finish

Screen Shot 2018-10-12 at 3.23.15 PM.png

In preparation for collaborating on an op-ed about the meaning and importance of the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo’s team paid $375,000 to a woman who had accused him of sexual assault I thought I would watch Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2015 self-titled self-hagiography. I was curious about its gender story.

The only woman who features in this languid cinematic pan over Ronaldo’s material and physical assets is Ronaldo’s mother, and she features significantly — she is no small part of his domestic life. In the film, she identifies herself as a victim of violent domestic abuse at the hands of Ronaldo’s father (who died in 2005). She takes tranquilizers to calm herself when watching important matches. She describes Ronaldo as an “unwanted child” — she had wanted an abortion. Abortion, however,  was only recently decriminalized in Portugal, in 2008. Thank goodness, she and her son declare. This is no small part of CR’s personal mythology. He is the redeemer – the man who redeems his father and his mother. The man who redeems his own unwanted existence.

And then there is the peculiar erasure of the identity of the mother of his cherubic first child, named, like the film, after him. No one knows who the mother is or the nature of the pregnancy. The film underlines Ronaldo’s insistence on keeping this information close. Normally it is not a child’s maternity which is in question but its paternity. Cristiano Ronaldo has the money, the power and the legal team to reverse even this most basic ordering of things. 

He is surrounded by marble, steel and glass — he lives in a corporate fortress not quite as imposing of that of his agent, Jorge Mendes who, at one point, says that not only is Ronaldo like a son to him — Ronaldo’s mother, Mendes says at a family dinner, is the mother he wished he’d had himself. 

Women who are not Ronaldo’s mother figure only in the background as they gather in screaming hoards outside his hotel, outside practice fields — at one point in the film a woman runs onto a field and is tackled. She is actually introduced to him. Benevolent god that he is, he takes a picture with her. As she is led away, tears streaming down her face, she says to the camera that she hopes he will follow her on Twitter.

Feeling this.

FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia"France v Croatia"

Pussy Riot’s World Cup final intervention.

Kick Him When He’s Down (Mood)

the-death-of-a-former-giant

Yrsa Roca Fannberg, The Death of a Former Giant (watercolor on paper, 2009)

Autumn Knight: Instructions for a Fight

Instructions for a Fight, 2017 from Autumn Knight on Vimeo.

 

%d bloggers like this: