On July 11th, as on June 11th, the eyes of the world were fixed on the images coming from the calabash styled Soccer City Stadium where the curtains of arguably the best world cup ever hosted were sadly falling. The array of colourful imagery captured the essence of the great tournament which had been taking place for the past month. Much pessimistic literature had been written about South Africa, and indeed, Africa’s inability to host the biggest and most watched sporting spectacle on Earth. So, reading reports from various media houses prior to the kick off, during the tournament and after the La Furia Roja of Spain had edged the Netherlands by an odd goal from Andres Iniesta to claim their maiden world cup title, it was as if the South Africa they were heaping all manner of praises isn’t the same one they were rubbishing with their stereotyped and thumb sucked journalism in months leading up to June 11th. Whether hosting of the world cup will prove to have been a worthy exercises as far as the socio economic of state of the Republic will be seen as the decade grows older. Many ‘experts’ have said that the ‘free’ marketing the country had received is priceless and will be far reaching.
From a social awareness perspective the hosting of the 19th edition of the world cup maybe more invaluable than we may care to imagine. It offered the hosts and the visitors the opportunity to interact with each other in person and by so doing dispelling any myths that may have been created as a result of the vendetta centric reporting towards Africa. The fact that many soccer fans were more than glad to follow the world cup to our so called ‘dark continent’ was a vindication of the little sway that publications such as the UK’s Daily Sun and Mirror hold because when the fans got to South Africa they were amazed to see that much of what they were warned of didn’t exist in South Africa. The world cup also gave the locals an opportunity to be educated about the standards of living in other parts of the world which might not necessarily get coverage from many a print and television media coverage in the Republic. Think of the little kids who were walking the soccer players during the 64 matches of the world cup. Surely that has left the children with something that they will cherish for many years to come. It is also worth noting that not only nations of the 32 participating countries were represented during the sporting spectacle. In weeks leading up to the kick off the world cup, I would sit down with my eight year old sister and I would ask her to indicate difference between the Argentinean and Uruguayan flag or differentiate the Serbian flag from the Slovakian and the Slovanian ones.
You’d be surprised how many adults also get said flags confused but because of the world cup I was able to explain to my little sister that in Argentine flag the yellow smiley sun is in the centre and on Uruguayan one is on the left of the flag. Another interesting thing I related to my sister was that very little separated the two football mad nations except for a river called River Plate, which also happens to be the name of a football team in Argentina. Because we can’t truly detach politics from sports it therefore means that political undertones also find a way of accentuating the rivalry of many nations and that was also evidenced during the tournament. Those who didn’t understand why the players from Honduras, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay have similar or the same surnames as those of Spain, now probably know that it’s because almost all, save for Brazil, of Latin America was colonized by Spain. Hence the “latin” part in Latin America. The Spanish language together with French, Italian and Portuguese descend from Latin. In fact, to demonstrate the interconnectedness of football and politics, the Latin America Champions League is called the Copa Liberadores in honour of those who led the independence wars against Spain. Men such as the majestic Simon “The Liberator” Boliva ( Bolivia was named him in his honour), Antonio Sucre( the Capital of Bolivia is named after him), Jose Carrera and many others. Through out the cup we must have also learnt that people who live in North Korea aren’t bad as they seem to be depicted by Western media just because they are governed by a communist party.
What was of even greater satisfaction for me was the fanatic manner in which many white South Africans rallied behind Africans teams when ever they were playing. In the past you’d be had pressed to find a many knowing the difference between Nigeria and Ghana but not in 2010. I was fortunate enough to see Ivory Coast play against North Korea in Mbombela Stadium and there people were clad in orange in support of the Ivorians and that gave indication that perhaps being African was now acceptable to many people who previously shunned the label. Another positive that we will take away from the 2010 world cup in the multi racial and cultural make up of teams such as Germany. They had players of Polish, Ghanaian, Turkish, Spanish and Brazil ancestry in their team. Further emphasizing the fact that the world has become ‘smaller’ and highlighting the positives of human migration and that those who still pick their players based on race will be left behind. Ghana’s Kevin Price Boateng was born in Germany but chose his paternal homeland and he shone for the Black Stars. The opening match was refereed by Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan. It may take a while for a country like Uzbekistan to qualify for the world cup but the fact that they were representative must have brought hope and joy to the little Asian state. Even more memorable has to be Slovakia’s victory over the then defending champions – Italy. That victory solidified that even the best can be put to the sword by the dark horses and the Greeks won’t forget the South African edition of the world cup because they scored their first goal and registered their first win of the world cup in Bloemfontein against Nigeria. Those are the types of social benefits that will linger on in the minds of those of us who followed the Beautiful Game’s ‘holy grail’ in 2010.
We will fondly remember Sphiwe Tshabalala’s 55th strike against Mexico and continue to debate what would have happened had Katlego Mphela’s shot not struck the upright at the death of the match. What about England’s disallowed goal against an impressive German side? The splendid manner in which the Dutch fans seemed to paint the towns Orange. The agony of tearful early exists and crushing of world cup winning hopes of Brazillian, Argentine, Dutch, German and Ghanaian fans amongst a plethora of others will not be forgotten very soon. Above all we will remember how for the first time in a while attacking and positive football finally won the world cup for the Spanish team. As we prepare for June 13th in Sao Paulo, Brazil 2014, let’s us recall that football and not FIFA connects us. Let’s continue to build on the little we have achieved from social benefits of hosting the world cup. VIVA LA FANATICS!!!!