Special Briefing: What Can the World Learn From Sporting Victories?

People wave the players of the U.S Women's National Soccer team during a Victory Parade and City Hall Ceremony in New York, United States on July 10, 2019.

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Why you should care

Because winners make history.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? Within a span of eight days, two stunning sporting victories have brought together sharply divided nations on either side of the Atlantic — at least momentarily. Yesterday, the England men’s cricket team ended decades of heartache by winning its first World Cup, even as the U.K. struggles to define its political and economic future. That followed the July 7 victory of the U.S. national soccer team at the Women’s World Cup, itself packed with critical commentary on gender stereotypes and discrimination. Following the American win, President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi briefly found themselves on the same page by congratulating the victors. Ditto in the U.K., where rival candidates for prime minister, Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, lauded their national team’s historical win. 

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England batsman Ben Stokes hits out during the Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between New Zealand and England at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

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Why does it matter? These teams haven’t just won the biggest trophies in their sports — they’ve also successfully used their sporting campaigns to take a stand on some of the key debates of our times, from immigration to gender equality and gay rights. They’ve inspired millions with messages of inclusiveness that once came from political leaders. But by laying down their positions so clearly, these players could also end up exacerbating the existing divisions in their countries. 

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

A league of their own. Besides being great at winning World Cups (the USWNT has swept half the Women’s World Cup finals ever held), the team is leading in other ways. Its fight for equal pay has led many to question whether a women’s team that rakes in more revenue than its male counterpart should still be making less than 40 percent of what male players earn. Purple-haired co-captain Megan Rapinoe — who’ll kick off day two of this year’s OZY Fest in New York on July 21 — has emerged as an outspoken leader, and not only on the pay gap: In her public appearances, she has exhorted fans to “be better,” directly challenged President Trump on his divisive policies and generally captivated audiences with her charisma. And while she bats down questions about whether she’ll run for office, she’s pledged to remain a lifelong activist. Her teammates have been outspoken too, with co-captain Alex Morgan defiantly dismissing criticism of her “tea sip” celebration as a double standard.

Still open. “We had Allah with us.” So said English cricket captain Eoin Morgan — who was born in Ireland and has played for that country — after his team’s narrow victory over New Zealand yesterday. He was quoting Adil Rashid, one of the team’s key bowlers, in response to a reporter’s question about whether Irish luck helped push his squad to victory for the first time in the World Cup’s 44-year history. During a time when Britain is torn over its contentious withdrawal from Europe, and whether to tighten immigration norms, the country’s victorious cricketers have made a statement: “It epitomizes our team,” Morgan continued, referring to the team’s diversity. Their top bowler is 24-year-old Jofra Archer, born in Barbados, who became eligible to play for England only this year. The team’s star batsman Sunday was New Zealand-born Ben Stokes. Rashid and another bowler, Moeen Ali, were born in the U.K. to Pakistani parents.  

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United States’ forward Megan Rapinoe celebrates at the end of the France 2019 Women’s World Cup round of sixteen football match between Spain and USA, on June 24, 2019, at the Auguste-Delaune stadium in Reims, northern France.

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Heroes for all … Although cricket originated in England, its slow pace — a match in the shortest version of the sport lasts more than three hours — has contributed to a sharp decline in popularity there. Since 2005, no free-to-air TV channels have broadcast cricket matches, unlike many soccer and rugby games, which can be watched for free. Yet as England marched to Sunday’s final with dominating performances, a growing public clamor made Channel 4 agree to air the final for free. England’s cricket team is undoubtedly hoping their win helps attract a fresh generation of kids to the sport, reviving its fortunes — Morgan even said so after the final. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Rapinoe and team are showing why it makes sense to put at least as much money into women’s soccer as into the men’s game: According to Fox Sports, this year’s Women’s World Cup final was watched by 14 million U.S. viewers, more than the 11 million who watched the men’s final last year.   

… or only for some? But high-profile messaging can also backfire. Take the USWNT, for example: While Rapinoe’s been hailed as a “badass,” not everyone has embraced her brand of activism. Few might argue with promoting equal pay, but her self-identification as a “walking protest” has proven far more divisive. Just like former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick alienated football fans with his on-field protest during the national anthem, so too has Rapinoe angered critics by first kneeling, and then later standing, in silence during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Perhaps no less controversial was her comment last month that “I’m not going to the f**king White House” — an uncharitable swipe at President Trump, her critics claim. Ask the most vocal ones and they’ll say she’s gone “from champion athlete to champion complainer,” having displayed a “sanctimonious” streak with her advice to “be better.” 

WHAT TO READ

Afghanistan’s Stunning New Success Story: Sports, by Maroosha Muzaffar on OZY

“Afghanistan has been a nation torn apart by successive wars and invasions, terrorism and sectarian conflict. Now, stunning sporting successes — from cricket and soccer to martial arts and wrestling — are helping the country dream of a new identity, while also offering hope of a better future to the younger generation.”

Megan Rapinoe Is a Great — But Needlessly, Selfishly Divisive — Athlete, by Marc Thiessen in the New York Post

“Instead of unifying Americans behind her team’s admirable fight for gender equity, Rapinoe is dividing Americans with her anthem protests. Untold numbers of Americans who might have been inspired to support the team’s cause have been alienated by its leader.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Fans and Players React to the Momentous Cricket World Cup Final

“I’ve hugged and kissed people that I’ve never met before tonight.”

Watch on The Guardian on YouTube:

Full Rapinoe: ‘We’ve Managed to Just Give People Hope’ Meet The Press NBC News

“I’m going to fight for equal pay every day for myself, for my team and for every single person out there — man, woman, immigrant, U.S. citizen, person of color, whatever it may be.”

Watch on NBC News on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Luck of the Irish? While Ireland-born England cricket captain Morgan laughed away a reporter’s suggestion that the luck associated with his birthplace helped his team, his squad did enjoy remarkably good fortune: In the final moments of Sunday’s match, a New Zealand fielder’s throw accidentally deflected off an England player’s bat and sped away to the boundary, giving Morgan’s team four critical — and unintended — runs. Until then, victory had appeared beyond England’s reach.

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