11 men and a ball, and a net with holes in it

Yeoh Siew Hoon got fed up of being left out, and gets stuck in the sporting tournament that is sweeping the world.

29 June 2000

If your eyes are apt to glaze over and you have to fight to hide a yawn when the words "Euro 2000" are mentioned, join me and the rest of the poor, disenfranchised segment of the world's population who cannot understand why anyone can get passionate about the sight of 11 grown men chasing a ball around a field, doing strange things with their feet, only to put it in the net that has holes in it, for goodness sake.

So you may well ask, why am I writing about a sport which not only confounds me, but confuses me in the tactics used - for example, big, burly men rolling about in the field, clutching their knees in agony when all they've received is a gentle kick from opponents - Big Boys Do Cry? Or big, burly men huddled in a line, clutching their precious whatever-you-wish-to-call-it in anticipation of a corner kick that may go askew and land a bulls' eye? Have some respect for the opponents, guys, surely soccer is a gentleman's sport and no one would aim below the belt, would they?

However I am digressing. The reason I am writing about this sporting phenomenon that is gripping Planet Earth and Mars - yes, if they have found water on Mars, then there must be life - is precisely just that; and also because I can't resist a challenge.

I was dared by some male sporting types in the trade who thought I should dedicate this column, the final week before the finals on July 2, to Euro 2000, the event that is keeping men in Asia awake through the nights and their wives happy because they aren't next to them, snoring.

Plus, I am fed up of being left out.

First of all, let me congratulate the English on leaving their mark on the game, not for sportsmanship but for hooliganism. I'd also like to congratulate the people behind the event for daring to say, why should we give the next tournament to the English to host if they can't behave on foreign shores?

To twist the knife further into the guts of the English (it is a brutal sport), let me add that this is also Sports Tourism Year for the British Tourist Authority. Not the most auspicious of years for the English to lose so badly - they were eliminated in the first round.

Secondly, let me commiserate with the folks at the World Wildlife Fund who must be having sleepless nights, wondering if global warming will be accelerated even more with the global live telecasts of Euro 2000. A report in the Bangkok Post said that electricity consumption in Thailand surged to unprecedented levels this month, higher than the levels consumed during the Asian Games in Chiang Mai.

Thirdly, let me draw a parallel between sports and religion by relating to you a tale from one of the sporting world's great legends, Gareth Edwards, Welsh rugby hero. In the book "Rugby: Body and Soul", the author Bill Samuel related an anecdote in which he was asked by Edwards to help him write a speech based on the theme that rugby is the religion of the Welsh.

The speech went one step further and argued that rugby is the first religion of the Welsh. It quoted a minister who was speaking to his congregration and who came to the conclusion that rugby attracted a bigger congregation than his. "First the place was full, even the gallery, long before it was due to start. Secondly, everyone had paid in advance for his seat. Thirdly, everyone was there on time. Fourthly, they sang hymns beautifully ..."

Now even I know soccer and rugby are different games - although both involve men and balls - but the point I am trying to make is, there is something inspirational and aspirational about sports that binds people together.

And tourism is really about the same thing - bringing people together.

The fact that a lot of people make a lot of money from the sports is beside the point.

The fact too that I am still awake writing this, and the fact that, come hell or high water, I am staying up on July 2 night to watch the final outcome of this major gladiatorial event is proof that even the most indifferent can be converted.

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