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Cry! You're at the World Cup

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, July 4: The football may not always be flowing at the World Cup but the tears are very much on show.

David Beckham became the latest player to wear his heart on his sleeve on Sunday when he announced he was standing down as England captain after his country's quarter-final defeat to Portugal.

Such displays of emotion were once regarded as the almost exclusive preserve of Latin teams. Eusebio, the great Portuguese striker, famously wept tears of anguish at the World Cup 40 years ago when his country lost to England in the semi-finals.

A generation on, though, sobbing soccer stars the world over are no strangers to spectators in victory as well as defeat.

Ludovic Magnin of stoic Switzerland was reduced to tears when his team went out to Ukraine in the second round while the veteran midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata of normally inscrutable Japan sobbed in the changing room after his last professional game ended in defeat by Brazil.

Mexico's goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez had even more cause to break down in tears after his side beat Iran 3-1 in the first round. His exceptional performance in goal occurred only a day after he had attended his father's funeral.

Professor Bernard Capp, a historian at the University of Warwick who has studied what makes it alright for men to cry in his native England, the land of the ''stiff upper lip'', says there is more to it than just the soccer.

''It partly reflects changes in gender roles. It is now much more acceptable for men to be open about their emotions,'' Capp said by telephone.

Just as importantly, he added, soccer had become so much more than a game, with the atmosphere at a big match akin to that at a ''religious revival meeting'', a factor that lent the sport an importance which made it acceptable for men to cry.

''It's no longer about just winning,'' Capp said.

Dr Cristina Versari, a sports psychologist based in San Diego, California, said the emotional aspects of high profile sports were driven as much these days by commercial and other considerations as by the competitive passions of the players.

''The investment is much greater so you have more to lose than you ever had,'' Versari, a Brazilian who works with professional NBA basketball players, said, citing the huge amounts of money riding on success or failure.

Versari said she had studied the contrasting behaviours of Brazilian and American judo athletes for her doctorate 25 years ago and found the greatest difference to be a higher degree of overt emotions among the Brazilians.

That was now changing, she said, and it was no bad thing that men in more countries felt able to show their emotions.

Britain's Mental Health Foundation agreed. Though research it published on the eve of the World Cup finals in Germany found more than half of the men it surveyed would feel embarrassed to be seen crying during a match, soccer helped them open up.

''It is encouraging that football makes it easier for men to talk about their feelings as traditionally men are far less likely than women to share their innermost thoughts,'' the agency's chief executive, Dr Andrew McCulloch, said.


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