- Japan supporters cleaned up their own stands after games at Russia 2018
- Their example was swiftly followed by their Senegalese counterparts
- The two sets of fans are contenders for the FIFA Fan Award 2018
In a FIFA World Cup™ filled with goals and thrills, some of the most iconic moments took place in the stands. Audiences around the globe had much to savour at Russia 2018, but they were also struck by an unusual sight: fans of Japan and Senegal cleaning up the stadiums where they had watched their heroes. A regular ritual wherever the Asian and African sides played, it has also earned both sets of supporters a nomination for The Best FIFA Fan Award 2018.
The spectacle of football supporters tidying up will have surprised no one in Japan, where pupils are obliged to clean their own classrooms before heading home. Many schools do not even employ cleaners, and the concept of leaving a space the way you found it is deeply integrated into the Japanese education system. The goal is to teach youngsters the values of responsibility, modesty and respect for others.
While football allows nations to express their own culture through team spirit, style of play and attitude towards the opposition, the World Cup also gave Japan's fans the chance to make a lasting impression – and one that came entirely naturally. First observed at France 1998, their habit of cleaning up took root more than a decade ago and has now become second nature in the Japanese championship. It also inspired others to follow their example at Russia 2018.
Match within a match
Several hours after Japan kicked off by defeating Colombia 2-1, Senegal's loyal followers picked up the baton in the wake of a 2-1 victory against Poland. Their supporters even came prepared, filling bin bags with empty plastic glasses throughout the game and sometimes spreading out their mission to the stands nearby.
The idea of 'cleaning before partying' could well catch on thanks to both sets of fans, who earned widespread praise during the tournament. Fittingly perhaps, the two tidiest teams in Russia also crossed paths in Ekaterinburg, where they played out a 2-2 draw in a venue undoubtedly left spotless after the final whistle.
"It wasn't planned or prepared," said Leopold Nzale, as the spokesperson for Senegal's fans explained the phenomenon to Senego. "It's something that just happened spontaneously." However it came about, the gesture showed football in a positive light – and also caused former Cameroon forward Samuel Eto'o to swell with pride.
As for Senegalese Football Federation Vice-President Saer Seck, he told RFI: "We welcomed this act with a lot of satisfaction and pride because it's not commonplace in Senegal. The Senegal fans realise perfectly that they are at the World Cup and that they are standard-bearers and ambassadors for Senegal, whether they find themselves in the stadiums or the streets."
Having won the unofficial prize for tidiness during the tournament, not to mention the respect of countless football devotees, Japan and Senegal's supporters could well be in line to collect another honour on 24 September: The Best FIFA Fan Award 2018.
The fate of each contender for that prize is now entirely in the hands of FIFA.com users. Do the Japanese and Senegalese supporters get your vote?