By the time you read this article the likes of Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Denmark and USA would have arrived in the country and their presence, along with those who will have arrived later, will have vanquished the ghosts of doubting thomases that have been lurking and hoping that their vague and cherished “Plan B” would materialize. The 2010 FIFA World Cup™ will be staged in the Republic. Period! The quality assured and world class stadiums have been ready for some time and all other logistics are either complete or require last minute touch ups. If there should be any loose end , they would be normally taken care off. Afterall, last minute finishes were also witnessed in Athens’ ’04 Olympics and Germany’s ’06 World Cup, respectively.
The ultimate success of the holy grail of football depends largely on how you will perform. A lot, justifiably so, has been said and written about your performances and whether or not you will be able to carry on the tradition of successfully having a host nation in the last 16, at the very least. That remains to be seen. Post the Korea/Japan ’02, our football has gone from bad to worse and even reaching new and embarrassing lows. That’s a fact we can’t run away from. During that dark period in our football we dismally failed to qualify for Germany, we failed to score or register a point in the African Cup Of Nations hosted in Egypt ‘06. In the Ghana hosted edition two years later we also failed to make it out of the first round and to hammer the nails of miserable national representation into the coffin of our football, we couldn’t make it to Angola 2010 and all former SAFA C.E.O, Raymond Hack, could say was that: “It’s a blessing in disguise.” Under the (mis)guidance of Joel N Santana we had that 9 match losing streak, a streak that included losses to Republic of Ireland’s ‘B’ side and Iceland, whose claim to fame was the recent volcanic ashes that brought global aviation schedules to a halt in April.
In essence, we have hit rock bottom and have remained there for quite a while. But there are lessons to be learnt from this sorry status quo. The ‘great’ thing about hitting rock bottom is that from here we can only progress and this epoch of a world cup is the grandest of stages to launch our revival. Your performances in this tournament will be remembered that’s undoubtable but how will you be remembered should be of concern. Will you be remembered as the generation of players who were part of the host nation that become the first to exit the world cup in the first round even when they had the monetary and infrastructural backing of their government and greater citizenry or will your deeds, in the field of play particularly, be chisels that engrave your names into sporting folklore’s hard to please memory? The choice is yours. Your highly ranked opponents’ duty will be to test how you wish to be recalled in years to come. It will not be easy. In fact, to many it’s almost unfathomable that you will give a pride imbuing account of yourself. This is probably because your resent performances strongly suggest that. But that is gladly in the past and can’t be allowed to be the captain that charts the direction your relationship with success, unless you let it do so. There are many gamblers across the world who stand to make fortunes from your supposedly ‘sure bet’ of an early exit. They have wagered hundreds and thousands of dollars that there’s no way you will reach the last 16. If you want them succeed, then, you will fail. Period!
We are products of history and those of you who will be part of the 23 men squad that will represent us against the 31 best footballing countries on Earth are chained to that historical fact. Nothing occurs of itself. There has to be a catalytic force that sets the wheels in motion. Given the well documented atrocities of our country’s political history and the denial of people of their basic rights to wage a meaningful struggle for betterment, it, therefore, means that football wasn’t spared from racial segregations of our blood soaked past. There’s a plethora of people who vigorously organized football in the republic and many more who, when the Aparthied government wouldn’t budge on its race based sporting policies, campaigned for the exclusion of South Africa from the international sporting arenas.
The late Struggle veteran and poet, Dennis Brutus is one such person. He was jailed for anti-race based sporting policies and upon his released further the cause abroad, a cause that finally bore fruition when South Africa was expelled from International Olympic Committee and FIFA, respectively. The widely published sociologist, Dr Peter Alegi, said the following of former African National Congress president and Nobel Laureate, Chief Albert Luthuli’s involvement in football: “Luthuli linked soccer and human rights by defending Africans’ rights to play. Soccer was part of the larger struggle for equality and self determination. When the Durban City Council moved aggressively in the early 1930s to gain control of black soccer, Luthuli politely but firmly fended off the authorities.” In an essay published in The Thinker, Chris Bolsmann writes about a team made up of black men that, in 1899, toured England for footballing purposes and given the nature of racism at the time they were subjected to all manner of insults that sort to lessen their membership of the human race. “To us the idea of Europeans mingling with Kaffirs on terms of equality is revolting…A Kaffir is not a human being, and is undoubtedly a creature of a much lower origin than the Caucasian”, so said a Thomas Coffrey regarding Orange Free State’s team touring England. They played 47 matches there and some at Newcastle’s St James Park. It’s said that they were loved by the fans. They endured without knowing that 111 years later Europeans and other continents would converge in their country for the contest of world footballing supremacy. Such are the sacrifices that should inform your performance at 16h00 in a packed 94000 capacity Soccer City Stadium on June 11 – 2010. The likes of Solomon Morewa, George Thabe and the great footballers players who never got an opportunity to represent South Africa should be remembered when you step on to that multi-billion costing stadiums in June and July.
You aren’t here by chance. By virtue of you choosing to participate in football from a young age you were already setting forth the wheels of destiny that have brought you to this juncture of a history in the making year. You didn’t require our permission to love and assiduously improve your abilities of the beautiful game. You were sacrificing all by yourself in getting yourself to the various far staged footballs trials. We appreciate and understand that well but since you play the sport so loved and religiously followed by us, we ask that you try to make us even prouder to be South Africans, and indeed, Africans. Don’t be shocked to find that the citizenry holds you in a higher a regard than they do politicians. It’s because through your efforts we can hoist the flag higher, sing the national anthem with a more patriotic commitment and make the vuvuzelas more vociferous. In giving a reputable account of yourself you will have honoured the lives of the prisoners on Robben Island who used football as an escapism and a tool to negotiate for better services in their hell-hole and the lives of 3 youths from rural Kwa-Zulu Natal who died from smoke inhalation because they watched your preparation match against Paraguay via a generator power television set and the old man who died while waiting in line to purchase a world cup ticket in Cape Town. They didn’t have to go through all of that but they did and they did so because of the hope and love that is represented and can be represented by yourselves during this tournament.
Your deeds are the long awaited fruits that must be plucked from the tree of sacrifice and in your ripe state must be tasted and savoured by sporting memory’s taste buds. Your deeds must exorcise the rampant doubts that have married themselves to our national footballing optimism for the longest time. Your apparel provider – Adidas, says, afterall, “IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING”. Oh, one last thing, please enjoy yourselves!”IBAMBENI WEBAFANA, IBAMBENI WEZINSIZWA.”