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Cheer, Chant, and Dejunk: Tidy Japan Supporters Clean up Garbage at World Cup -By Matthew Ma

According to data obtained from Clean-Up Nigeria and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), I give a few examples of the dirtiest states in Nigeria that has some environmental concerns. The first on the list is Abia state, ranked as the worst State in Nigeria today, with over 75% of its areas seen as unclean. A visit to local governments in the state will show refuse and waste dumped in several neighborhoods. This status is because of neglect by various state governments elected in the state to keep the environment clean.

“But in Japan, tidiness in public spaces is widely accepted as a virtue. Such habits are taught at home and reinforced at schools, where students from a young age clean up their classrooms and school facilities regularly.”
A week ago, Japanese soccer fans added a sense of humanity to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. After Japan massively upset the German team, a group of Japanese supporters, who earlier had been deliriously cheering and chanting, began meticulously cleaning the stands at Khalifa International Stadium, picking up trash scattered across the rows of seats. Fans walked across the aisle, picked up littered trash, and handed it to volunteer staff with a smile and delight on their way out. Before their match, following the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador, Japanese fans also picked up bottles and food left behind in the seats — despite their team not being part of the match. The Japanese fans handed out trash bags to clean up garbage from fans that had watched the previous game. One Bahrain influencer, Omar Al-Farooq, recorded footage of the Japanese fans’ good deeds after the opening match and shared it to his Instagram account. He even asked the fans why they decided to stay behind and help clean up the trash. One supporter told Al-Farooq that we are Japanese and do not leave rubbish behind us. We respect the place. We cheer, chant, and cleanse. Al Farooq himself, inspired by the good deeds of the Japanese supporters, chose to help the Japanese fans clean up the trash. The Japanese fans also picked up Ecuadorian and Qatari flags left on the ground and said that the symbols of countries command respect. Japanese fans are known for doing this. They helped pick up trash during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Following a 3-2 loss at the hands of Belgium in that tournament, Japanese supporters began scooping up every littered trash and cleaning off all the seats inside Rostov Arena. After the 2019 women’s World Cup in France, the supporters also swept and cleansed rows and rooms in the stadium.

The image of supporters calmly showing orderliness during the World Cup charmed observers from other countries where swerving around sticky soda spills, toppled bags of popcorn, and mini mountains of peanut shells are part of the standard sports stadium experience. But in Japan, tidiness in public spaces is widely accepted as a virtue. Such habits are taught at home and reinforced at schools, where students from a young age clean up their classrooms and school facilities regularly. Hence, cleaning shared areas, like stadiums, becomes an individual responsibility, and there are often no armies of workers hired to do it. Videos and pictures of the Japanese cleaning have gone viral on social media. But it is not just fans who are sharing them. A week into the tournament, FIFA posted a picture of the Japanese team’s locker room after its enormous upset victory over Germany. The room was rearranged, spotless, and orderly. But people who have lost touch with humanity question the actions of the Japanese supporters. They argued that Japanese supporters needed to be more aware of the local culture and customs and respect the fact that the organizers employed people already to cleanse the stadiums. According to them, Japanese civilization is not the only world. They are other people around them that should respect that. While many glowed in the positive depictions of the country’s culture, some were confused about what the excitement meant. They wondered if this idea was yet another instance where a specific behavior was a representative of the entire populace of Japan. However, other people said there were instances in the past in which supporters forced stadium workers to reopen garbage bags packed so that overzealous fans could separate materials for recycling. They wondered whether Japanese fans in Qatar might inadvertently interfere with similar efforts. They said the publicity over the fans’ conspicuous cleanliness was probably good for the image of Japan abroad but wondered if their motivations were pure. But the cleaning, however, seems to be appreciated in Qatar. After the cleaning, a stadium staff member led a group of workers and volunteers over to the supporters and thanked them through a megaphone.

The question is, what does this image hold for Nigeria and Africa in general? Recall the time they asked the Japanese supporters why they were cleaning. They responded that cleaning is not only part of the football culture but part of the culture of the Japanese. In other words, cleaning up after football matches is an extension of basic behaviors taught in school, where the children clean their school classrooms and hallways. With constant reminders throughout childhood, these behaviors become habits for much of the population. Perhaps, on the home soil, Nigerian cities continue to get dirtier and dirtier by the day. There is general laxity among people about the care of the environment. It looks like there is competition between cities that would claim the prize for being the dirtiest. Every state seems to be taking the race seriously, while officials ignore what their governments claim is an environmental concern. To understand that cities are the worst in Nigeria, we must first know that no Nigerian state is super clean. The only difference is that some states have more clean areas than others due to the combined efforts of the government and the masses in combating waste management. One thing we should understand about Nigeria is that the effect of wastage or uncleanliness in the country is because of the ever-growing population in the land. Unfortunately, many states in Nigeria are dirty and have lived below the expectations set by the UN in maintaining a healthy environment. Traveling around urban and rural areas of these states, one would be surprised to see how we littered waste and dirt dumps around the streets.

According to data obtained from Clean-Up Nigeria and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), I give a few examples of the dirtiest states in Nigeria that has some environmental concerns. The first on the list is Abia state, ranked as the worst State in Nigeria today, with over 75% of its areas seen as unclean. A visit to local governments in the state will show refuse and waste dumped in several neighborhoods. This status is because of neglect by various state governments elected in the state to keep the environment clean. The capital city is the filthiest in the state. But aside from wastage issues related to dirtiness and poor waste management, the people of Abia battle with floods and erosion almost yearly. The organization has dubbed Lagos state as the dirtiest place in Nigeria. Aside from the fact that Lagos state is the most populated state in the country, one of the most developed compared to other cities, and regarded as the economic center of the country, it has failed to lead in this regard. How is this notion possible? A drive or walk around the areas in the commercial hub will show heaps of waste dropped by the roadsides. The reality is sad, but many car drivers and passersby can easily throw their litter on the roadside. If you walk the streets, you will be surprised at how much garbage is under your feet. On many occasions, the neighborhood volunteers are overwhelmed by the pile of dirt around them. They lament how it has seemingly gone beyond the control of the waste management officials. The state recorded some cleanliness during the Raji Babatunde Fashola era, but the situation has deteriorated since then as subsequent regimes failed to handle it properly.

Kogi, Anambra, Kano, Ogun, Nassarawa, Zamfara, Yobe, and Benue are also on the list. On your arrival, you will find a disgusting sight that greets you. Heaps of stinking refuse, dirt, and smell welcome you. These great cities that Nigerians love and cherish have enormous human grime that accumulates daily. In Benue, for instance, residents are used to dumping their waste along the roads, near uncompleted buildings, and inside drainages. In the beginning, the materials are in small amounts. With time, as the number of objects increases, it blocks water from flowing freely. This condition can eventually lead to clogged drainage systems, causing massive erosion. After heavy rain, the drainage systems present an odor that hits your nostril. Besides, blockage drainage systems have become a common issue for the people as they do not understand the idea of managing large volumes of water. Hence, it leads to flooding outside many properties. Recent events in Nigeria have highlighted historical deficiencies in urban spatial management, sanitation, and waste management, as heavy rains in late August 2022 led to unusually severe flooding. The floods and their mismanagement have killed more than 600 people, exacerbating the risk of another annual cholera outbreak in the slums. Floods spread to parts of the north-central and southern following a wet monsoon, displacing more than 2 million people, according to the ministry. The floods damaged about 200,000 either entirely or partially across 33 of the 36 states in Nigeria. Drainage systems in the highlands and lowlands are overwhelmed. But the reason is understandable: we have inefficiently failed to control waste or refuse disposal in these states. Perhaps, the local culture lacks education about the importance of environmental protection. For example, the monthly environmental sanitation exercise, under which citizens were to dedicate three hours on the last Saturday of each month to clean up the environment, is no more in many cities. Several state governments have terminated the regulation, which has been a part of the city’s character for three decades, arguing that it was economically unrealistic. A State like Lagos has taken the lead in canceling monthly sanitation events. The government noted that considering the present economic situation in the country, it was no longer appropriate to restrict the movement of people for three hours in a mega city like Lagos at a time they should be pursuing commercial and entrepreneurial activities. Recently, some residents of Lagos residents urged the Lagos state government to reestablish monthly environmental sanitation to engender a sustainable environment is not unexpected, given the mounting ecological challenges facing the mega city. Environment, no doubt, is an issue in Lagos that we should handle intelligibly. But more importantly, the authorities should be more systematic and assertive in handling environmental matters in the state.

Growing up with nine siblings and parents in a tiny environment that should house no more than four, I saw firsthand how our home changed with the weather. We were always ready to weather the storms by keeping essential documents in waterproof packages and on the highest surface. We sorted every other item as well – heavy wooden and plastic papers around the environment, smaller items on top, and the mattress suspended to the best of our ability. The routine does not require drills. Every rainy night was a nightmare, no matter how prepared. There were a few surprise rainfalls that would cost us dearly. Our river had a constant flood. The flood carried all the rubbish from the other rivers in the village and the waste people earlier dumped in the river farther afield. I remember my teachers telling me to remain at home when it rained to avoid drowning. More than two decades later, the story is the same. I still witness the same catastrophe each time I visit home. The flooding is the same, the government has not constructed the bridges, and the environment still stinks. What we see today is Nigerians have not learned a lesson. We are too big to cleanse the surroundings and surfaces around us. I remember visiting the village and asking the youth to join me in fixing the damaged part of our local road. They told me to call a meeting and officially invite them to work on the road they use. They asked me to provide food, drinks, and money as an incentive. But how do we get here? How do we lose the concept of volunteering? It beats my imagination.
The Japanese instill a culture of cleanliness in children from childhood. This initiative helps the children grow into people who love their country and respect others. We need to spread that same cultural mentality in our nation, schools, mosques, churches, and even our private and government offices. Nigeria is a beautiful country worth working for and spreading awareness among those few who litter the nation. The cleaning of the stadium by the Japanese supporters after the game testifies to their development, civilization, and independence. The Japanese people built themselves up after the end of World War II, which destroyed them and taught their children how to rebuild their civilization in a short time. It is a culture that we should learn from to build our homeland. Preserving the environment is the responsibility of everyone. I called on all Nigerians to follow the example of the Japanese supporters by cleaning the place near them at all times. We can begin by picking up trash wherever we see it. The government should not forget to launch awareness campaigns on cleanliness and encourage people to throw waste in trash bins. We must give credit to the Japanese fans. We must start teaching the importance of cleaning the environment from an early age. I like what the Japanese fans did at the end of the match. I hope to see such scenes in our stadiums, schools, playing grounds, beaches, and tourist sites. Unfortunately, many leave their trash on beaches and tourist places after enjoying an outing. They never care to clear the dirt they left behind. The Japanese are raised in a culture of cleanliness and respect for the environment from childhood. They do not leave rubbish behind but respect the place where they stay. We must teach our children and create awareness among people to preserve and respect the environment.

This familiar saying attributed to legendary former Celtic manager Jock Stein is as true today as it was when he first said it. The fans are the heartbeat of this most beautiful sport. The FIFA Fan Award recognizes that football supporters worldwide make our sport what it is. FIFA launched the accolade in 2016 to highlight an exceptional moment or gesture from a fan or group of fans, regardless of the league, gender, or nationality. Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund supporters were the inaugural winners of the FIFA Fan Award in 2016. Celtic fans were honored the next year, followed by Peru supporters in 2018, The Palmeira’s supporter Silvia Grecco in 2019, and, most recently, the Brazilian fan of Sport Recife Marivaldo Francisco Da Silva won it. During the UEFA Cup 2020 match between Denmark and Finland, supporters were shocked after Christian Eriksen collapsed in the stadium. Instantaneously, there was fear, sadness, tears, grief, and comforting embraces on the pitch and in the stands. As medics worked to revitalize the Danish player, the stadium announcer asked fans to remain in their seats. But the supporters used this time to do something special. Despite their worry and uncertainty, supporters of both clubs started chanting, with the Finns calling out Christian before the Danes responded with Eriksen. With this simple act, the fans showed they were united, supporting one another and casting their rivalries aside. A short time later, when the announcer broke the welcome news that Eriksen was awake and stable, a resounding cheer went up from all corners of the stadium. The fans won the hearts of many, including FIFA. The question in this tournament is, who will take home this year’s award for the best-behaved supporters in Qatar? I will personally give it to the Japanese supporters. They do not only cheer and chant. They also cleaned. What better place to make a statement about the need to care responsibly for the planet than the World Cup?

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and doctoral student in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

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