Week 103 (19 - 25 September 2015)
The Japan rugby team have had every sports journalist around the world talking and writing about them this week, without saying a word themselves.
There was no need. Last Saturday they delivered one of the biggest shocks in sporting history in beating South Africa in their opening match of the Rugby World Cup in England. You probably heard about it!
The improbability of their victory is already rugby folklore: Japan’s only previous World Cup victory was in 1991, whilst South Africa are two-time champions and had only lost three World Cup games before. It was a head-scratching result, the sort which gives broadcasters a genuine need to tell viewers that their television sets are not broken and that the final score is actually 34-32 TO Japan.
The result was not just a timely reminder of how exciting sport is, although it was indeed that. Moreover it was a result capable of changing the way people see things in the everyday - even the way they interact with each other. The sports industry champions sport’s ability to capture hearts and minds and, in turn, enhance society by changing people’s attitudes. This match was in that sphere of influence. Above all, the game brought people together. Twitter reports of South African fans giving Japanese fans a guard of honour as they got off their train in Brighton went viral, but probably only scratched the surface of the camaraderie the game brokered across England and around the world.
The reactions of Japanese players and fans to the result also gave an intriguing social snapshot of Japan. As their head coach Eddie Jones explained in an interview with the Daily Mail this week: “Normally Japanese people don’t show huge emotion but when they do it comes out in floods of tears. So there I was smiling broadly, fists pumping the air, in the changing room after this incredible day, surrounded by a team of grown adults suddenly weeping buckets. OK, I did nearly shed a tear myself at one stage. Just to see their joy is what we all do it for.”
The media coverage which Japan’s victory has generated over the past seven days has got the Rugby World Cup off to an incredible start. But more importantly it has underlined sport’s ability to interrupt people’s everyday lives and change them for the better.