Rather than congratulating USA players, many netizens complained about their excessive goal celebrations. One Thai commenter summed up the general feeling: it is fine to dominate a rival who is on the same level, but there’s something unnatural in gloating over the destruction of a much smaller opponent.
In the same way, we might adore dogs that are smarter than other dogs, but we fear or even despise dogs that are “as smart as us”. Dogs that will fetch you a beer from the fridge are “cute”; those that can play complicated tunes on the piano are disturbing.
The Thai team shipped 13 goals in the game, creating an unenviable record for both the men’s and women’s categories. While the winners were criticised for celebrating every goal “like they had won the final”, sympathy poured in for the losers.
On the other hand, if a Thai player tweeted about meeting “the Prince of Whales”, netizens would chuckle at the typo or naivety. When Donald Trump tweeted exactly that a few days ago, the whole world had a laughing fit. (In truth, Trump has exhibited enough evidence that this may have been neither a typo nor mere naivety, but that’s exactly what I’m getting at.)
“Equality” is a slippery word. People who laughed at Trump may have failed to consider the fact that he is also a human, albeit one with access to nuclear launch codes. Those who lambasted the USA footballers for not showing mercy to the Thais may have failed to consider that showing mercy can be a form of insult.
Should the US team have shown “respect” to the fledging Thai players by going easy on them after scoring, say, eight goals? Or does “real respect” for an opponent require that athletes keep their foot on the pedal until the very end?
Many of the Thai players cried after the humiliation. Pictures of their tear-streaked faces inflamed criticism against the USA team.
This made me think about the dog analogy. People showed sympathy for the Thais because they consider them inferior, harmless and in need of support. When Leicester City FC won the Premier League trophy a few years ago, it was a fairytale and love flooded in for the “tiny” club from all sides. Today, beating Leicester is a cause for big celebration.
Yet the Leicester of today are pretty much the same side that won the Premier League in the 2015-2016 season. Why have feelings towards them changed?
Politics is more or less the same. Had Trump tried to bounce back from his latest gaffe by proclaiming a social media “witch hunt” against him, the laughter would have multiplied. Some say such persecution is an infringement on the human rights of the president and those he represents.
Now, let’s look at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Politicians, whether they are democratic or dictatorial, treat people like the beer-fetching dogs. They want them to be “a little bit smart” but not so smart that they cannot be controlled. Otherwise election campaigns would be a lot harder.
Human rights activists, meanwhile, should have done something regarding Trump. They should have protected either him or those whose interests he is supposed to protect. The activists’ silence is unsettling. Either they are ignoring his “right” to be wrong, or they don’t care about people governed by someone who can’t tell Whales from Wales.
Finding a response to the massive Thai defeat is difficult, but a group of Thai women seem to have found a way. Under the “Power of Women” banner, celebrities who are publicly encouraging the Thai footballers to fight on despite the risk of more embarrassment include BNK 48 heartthrob Cherprang Areekul, badminton star Ratchanok Intanon, football manager and businesswoman Nualphan Lamsam, TV idol Patcharasri Benjamas (Kalamare), and popular actress Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul.
Among the messages delivered by this group is that defeats on the field are outweighed by the pride they give the nation, and the strength to bear and recover from humiliation may be the greatest strength of all.
Writer’s note: This column was written before the Thailand-Sweden game on Sunday night. I’m adding this not because the scoreline in that match, 4-1 to the Swedes, showed a marked Thai improvement, but because in scoring their solitary goal at the end of the match, the Thai women showed defiance to get up off the floor. Bravo.
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