In WC 2002, the US team played a contentious match with co-hosts South Korea. The 65,000 S.Korean fans were universally anti-US, fueled by an incident involving US speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno in the recent Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, in which he was awarded the gold medal in the 1500 m after the winner Kim Dong Sung was controversially disqualified for stepping in front of Ohno. The US has traditionally generated strong feelings of antipathy because of soldiers stationed in the DMZ and the Koreans have also resented the pro-US stance towards Japan.
The match was drawn 1-1 from goals through Clint Mathis and the equalizer through Ahn Jung-Hwan. The South Koreans celebrated the equalizer by aping the movements of the speedskaters, a pointed reminder to the Ohno controversy.
The march to war in Iraq was a distant beat at that time. And the 2002 Pew Poll ratings showed that the 9/11 sympathy wave although waning still created a majority in Korea (53%) and Japan (72%) that found the US favorable. Western European countries also showed a slip but around two- thirds of the population still had a positive image of the US. Germany with 61%, France 63%, the UK 75% and Italy 70%.
Lets fast forward to the year 2006. The war on Iraq to date has claimed the lives of 2,465 US soldiers and 224 coalition troops. And approximately 17,869 of them are wounded. Iraqi lives lost range between 38,000 to 43,000. Along the way Spain and Turkey, amongst the big coalition partners have pulled out. The Ukraine and Italy are pulling out their troops by the end of this year.
The 16 nation Pew poll on June 26, 2005 showed the toll that the Iraq war has taken on US image with further slippage of US favorability in the world in all the countries except for India and Indonesia. Western Europe was particularly negative with only the UK seeing the US in a favorable light (55%). In other countries particularly Germany 41%, France 43%, and Spain 41%, had a positive image of the US. The Eastern bloc and Russia countries had a small majority favoring the US.
It has become so bad that George Bush has cut down drastically on his foreign travel. He lives in a security bubble where his unpopularity is filtered away from him from the crowds that come to jeer him. He could not address the Indian and the Australian parliament because it would have created a pandemonium. Condaleeza Rice was booed through her trip to the UK.
What does this mean in terms of sporting events? Is there is any indication that the world thinks differently when it comes to the US sending out their teams for international events? After the 2002 WC, the major sporting events have been the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. The US Olympic Committee issued a warning to their athletes to tone down patriotic celebrations and to refrain from taunting because of the unpopularity of the Iraq war in Greece.
But the US team was recieve by applause and approval in the inaugural Olympic ceremony. The team that drew the biggest jeers and boos was the US basketball team not only from the fans of other countries but even their own for their shoddy performance. There were some disgruntled US athletes who refused to lose gracefully. And then there was the Paul Hamm controversy. But there were no organized anti-US demonstrations.
The 2006 Winter Olympics was overshadowed by greedy commercialization led by Coca Cola and other sponsors. This infuriated thousands of Italian anti-globalization and anti-war activists who led protests all over Italy and hijacked the Olympic flame enroute from Athens. The protestors also heckled Laura Bush with signs saying "Go Home' when she decided to attend the games. The US Olympic team did not endear itself through the selfish displays of Bode Miller and Chad Hedrick. The reception to the US skiers was not too enthusiastic and there were quite a few hecklers at the bottom part of the ski courses.
Germany and Germans have been strongly against the war on Iraq right from the start. Donald Rumsfeld infamously called Germany as part of Old Europe when they failed to support the US on its war resolution and join the coalition to provide troops and logistics to the war effort. But the cause of anti-US sentiment also extend to the excesses at Abu Ghraib, the incarceration of prisoners without trial at Gitmo, the policy of extra-ordinary rendition, the death penalty, intelligent design, and the increasing religiosity seen in the American public.
The US soccer team comprises a group of relatively low profile players, many who play overseas and who have first hand experienced anti-US feelings amongst the club supporters and players. DaMarcus Beasley at PSV Eindhoven "Even my teammates give me a little stick for it. They don't like (President) Bush at all," he said. "I don't really get any anti-Americanism, but they kind of say, 'Yeah, we don't like Americans.''' I think that they will not do anything to antagonize themselves having recognized that they are treading the edge of tolerance amongst the many Europeans who will witness their matches. Because George W Bush can live in his security bubble and create his own reality but the people who have to deal with that fallout are the players like that of the US Soccer team and the fans that will go from the US to see them.