The FIFA World Cup tournament is the planets premier plenipotentiary of sport
The World Cup is all about bringing humanity together in a celebration of togetherness. It is a high point like none other, a shattering climax, an apotheosis, the joyful collective shout heard around the world.
It is therefore the world’s greatest single mass spectator sporting event. And the World Cup final is always a moment when the globe stands still. If the aliens of science fiction were ever to invade Earth, they could not choose a more appropriately diversionary moment than the World Cup final, whatever the teams in contention — the element of surprise would be total.
This year the Cup — and the World — come to that location in Africa known as South Africa.
And both the mega event and the world will get a welcome truly befitting Africa — they will be welcomed with rhythm. It is almost a cliché right around the world that rhythm plays a much larger part in the African tradition — from drumming and dance to the way people walk and otherwise comport themselves — than in any other. The world is coming to South Africa for the 19th FIFA World Cup fully expecting to be enticed, entranced and enthralled by African rhythm, from the scheduled spectacular opening ceremony to many other aspects of the tournament itself and its scenic venue, the Republic of South Africa — aka The Rainbow Nation — a microcosm of the African continent itself.
To the power and poise of the Beautiful Game will be added the grace under pressure of African natural rhythm in an unforgettable mix; it has all the makings of a World Cup like none other.
It will be a vivid and pulsating month-long extravaganza, filled with the best of famed African hospitality, humour, wit and fun. With makarapa on their heads, vuvuzela in their mouths, palms on drums, feet stomping, hips swaying and in good voice, proud and loud with it, Africans will welcome the world.
In the stands and VIP boxes, resplendent swathes of glittering traditional and national garb and the varied and valued colours of a myriad nations on display, the pomp and pageantry will announce Africa’s arrival on the World Cup global stage.
On the turf, pantomimes, athleticism, nerve and verve purveying rich cultural heritages and march- pasts by the participating teams will focus the eyes of the world on every move as SA hosts Africa’s global party.
The venue of this feast of the senses and the spirit will be Johannesburg’s Soccer City, the gleaming, calabash-resembling 94,700-capacity stadium that is the largest on the African continent.
The occasion will be the opening ceremony and opening match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, dubbed Africa’s World Cup and hosted by South Africa. The day will be Friday, June 11 and although we are not in the business of clairvoyance the following we can confidently predict:
Soccer City will be packed to the rafters; it will be a melting pot of global cultures; and the score will be nil-nil when the referee starts the tournament’s opening match between South Africa and Mexico. However, behind the inviting messages on the makarapa; above the din of the vuvuzela and drums, and beyond the faces of anticipation and expectation, will be the hope that, after all the waiting, everything will come together.
That, on the pitch and off it, South Africa and Africa will pass with flying colours. That trains and buses for teams and fans will run on time; that on the pitch the referees will follow the book and players play by the rules; that hotels and hospitality will be top notch; and that the safety of all will be assured.
Carrying the continent’s hopes and fears will be South Africa’s Bafana Bafana, around which will rally a continent’s cacophony of cheers and jeers, hoots and toots, ahs and ohs for a fine shot and blind pass, tackle well-timed and tackle missed or deft dummy and inept effort.
The quality and outcome of the match notwithstanding, all in the stadium and the millions that will follow the live TV broadcast around the world will look forward to a month-long football feast and fiesta without siesta.
The proud hosts to the world, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and FIFA President Sepp Blatter, will look on attentively through the opening ceremony that will be aimed at displaying the very best of Africa with a view to both silently and loudly proclaiming — I told you it would be great!
This hope for satisfaction will be shared by those witnessing the event in the stadium and those watching worldwide on television.
They will have come and will be watching from nearby Cape Town and as far away as Cairo; from Lagos on the West Coast to Lamu (Kenya) in the East; from Khartoum in the Sudan, Africa’s biggest country, to Gambia in the Gambia, the continent’s smallest country.
Perhaps in anticipation of such an atmosphere Blatter disclosed for the first time in early May in an interview with CNN’s Pedro Pinto that when he began the campaign for the World Cup to come to South Africa in the 1990s, he had always wanted SA to be the host.
He did not explain why and he was not pressured to, but South Africa in 1995 played host to the Rugby World Cup, which it won before increasingly popular President Nelson Mandela, the world epitome of political forgiveness and architect of the Rainbow Nation.
The infrastructure and the organisational know-how were therefore available, albeit on a smaller scale, but even better Blatter must have reckoned that Mandela and South Africa symbolised what the FIFA World Cup is all about — bringing humanity together.
Will he or will he not be there? The question is asked of Mandela, the world’s greatest living statesman. Information attributed to his grandson in early May indicated that Madiba, as he is affectionately called on the continent, would not be present.
If that is his wish many would respect it, but still regret that he who campaigned so hard and long and around the world for the 2010 FIFA World Cup to be held in South Africa, and though old and frail, will not be physically present to witness the fruits of his labour.
After the opening ceremony and match, the attention of the football fans in South Africa and the watching world will shift to the business of football, beginning with the relaxed round robin stage. But things begin to get interesting from the knock-out stage.
The tension creeps in; the tactical prowess of coaches kicks in, players are called upon to put safety first and expression or entertainment second. On both terraces and turf, there is joy for some and heartache for others. But in the end the Beautiful Game is still a many-splendoured thing — and the greatest Envoy of Sport known to the world yet.
Welcome to Africa! Welcome to the FIFA 2010 World Cup!
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