The Fifa World Cup: Three things happening simultaneously By Steuart Pennington of SA Good News
I was gutted by Ghana’s loss on Friday night. Last time I felt like that was when SA lost the Cricket World Cup to Australia in the last over in 1994. Everyone in my chosen venue seemed to freeze as the second Ghanaian penalty was missed. The patrons left half-empty drinks as they left in despair. It was a cruel moment. As I drove home I had this indelible impression of an inconsolable Asamoah Gyan weeping profusely as his team mates tried to comfort him. It was sport at its most cruel, its most pitiless, as just 10 metres away the Uruguayans celebrated euphorically. It all seemed so unfair. But it got me thinking……
“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” my Dad always taught me.
Truth be told I did not grow up playing soccer. In the Cape where I started school, rugby was played from Grade 1. We learnt that in the Johannesburg junior schools the boys played soccer, which we thought was a bit pathetic (maybe explains the Lions performance …jokes!). So soccer has never been in my blood and I have never really been a soccer fan. With the advent of the FIFA 2010 World Cup being staged in this country, I was initially anxious about whether as the host nation we would succeed in the eyes of the world for our ability to do a proper job. That was really my only concern. So when Bafana Bafana were knocked out in the Group Stages, I consoled myself with:
Positive feedback from our international visitors
Reports that before the quarter finals had started we had already packed 2.69 million spectators in to our world class stadiums (which really means that every match had been played to capacity houses) and that our World Cup was likely to be ranked in the top three globally from an attendance perspective Jerome Valcke’s comment as the FIFA representative in SA for the past two years, in his heavy French accent “seis World Cup, ow can I say, ees perfect!” Increasing evidence that the number of spectator arrivals was going to exceed the 450 000 initially anticipated (revised down to 300 000 and then back up to 450 000 as close to 1 000 000 visitors come to SA in June according to Home Affairs – 500 000 more that June last year!) “It doesn’t really matter that we were the first host nation to be knocked out in the Group Stages, we acquitted ourselves well against France and Mexico and just lost our way against Uruguay” I rationalized “After all it’s not whether you win or lose…”
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” I once saw on a sales rep’s wall. As the drama of this quite unbelievable contest began to unfold I found myself becoming totally absorbed with every game. This Football World Cup is different to a cricket or rugby world cup, it is so much more international, there are many more teams, there are not one or two clear favourites, the scoring opportunities only happen two or three times per match, and the many individual moments of drama are heart-stopping and will be remembered long after the last team has left our shores. Who will forget the ignominy of the Italian and French exit in the Group Stages when just four years ago they were in the final together? Who will forget the travesty of the disallowed English goal (imagine if the German goalie has signaled to the ref. that it was a goal, would he be immortalised or what!)? Who will forget the missed Japanese penalty? Who will forget some of the mad refereeing decisions, like red-carding our goalie when the Uruguayans were off-sides? And who will ever forget the Ghanaian penalty bouncing off the crossbar with two seconds remaining? There are so many of them! And we haven’t (at the time of writing) even reached the semi-finals yet! This is not like Wimbledon when you only start taking an interest when the semi-final stage arrives! So when the Black Stars took the field I really wanted them to win, nothing else, just win, win for Africa, win for our Continent, win for the first semi-final spot for an African team. Beat those Uruguayans whatever it takes! When we scored the first goal I blew on my vuvuzela with all I had. When the Uruguayan master Diego Forlan scored a magnificent goal from a penalty I nodded in quiet respect. But when we secured the penalty in the dying moments I was on my feet with jubilation…when we missed it and lost the penalty shoot out I sat with 200 other compatriots shocked into stunned silence. I can’t remember feeling so down as a result of a single sporting moment! I have become a soccer junkie! Winning is all that matters!
“When you lose you must say nothing and when you win you must say even less”
I was told this by Vincent van der Bijl’s father, Pieter (remember Vince, a great SA opening bowler in the 70s?). Pieter captained the Springbok cricket side in the 30s, and he was my junior school headmaster. Those words have lived with me in all the sport I have played, and in much of the sport I watched as a youngster in the 60s When teams won there may have been a celebratory hand or two in the air, but the overwhelming etiquette was to congratulate the opposing and losing team and clap them off the field. The post match commentaries were always characterized by modesty and camaraderie between people who appreciated their gift of talent and the privilege of being able to represent their country. But that was in the amateur era when sport was seasonal. With the professional era now a reality in every sport, and the growing all-year occurrence of every major sport, much has changed. And many will be critical of that. “How can you, on the same weekend, have a choice of World Cup Soccer, the ‘Boks vs the Italians (Rugby), the Proteas vs the West Indians (Cricket), Wimbeldon (Tennis) and the US Open (Golf)?… “It’s overload”… “It’s all in the pursuit of money,” they lament.
But is it?
“Hosting is a responsibility and a privilege, playing is beautiful and cruel, and winning is a special moment” is what comes to mind as I digest the extraordinary events that have unfolded over the last three weeks. I have no doubt that South Africa and Africa’s place in the world will have changed for the better after the final whistle is blown. The 450 000-plus World Cup visitors here would have had the time of their lives and the estimated 32 billion global cumulative TV viewers would have formed perceptions of our Continent unthinkable four weeks ago.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup held in South Africa will indeed be remembered as one of the ‘best World Cups ever’.
It will be a hard act to follow…and our chances of hosting the Olympics immeasurably improved. We have more than met our responsibilities as the hosting nation and it has been a privilege to do so, that is our legacy. But the real memories of this event will the unforgettable moments of “agony” and the delirious “joy”, their cruelty and beauty. The pictures will not be of Table Mountain and the Cape Town stadium, but of Asamoah Gyan being comforted by his team mates, of crying Japanese supporters, of stunned English spectators, of goals that were “in” being “out”. The winners will go down in history, of that there is no doubt, and they will savour their moment forever, but their achievement will quickly be replaced by the focus of 32 teams on the next World Cup.
Such is the nature of this magnificent event and these three things happening simultaneously: hosting, agonizing and celebrating…
Finally, I echo the words of Shari Cohen, an American NGO worker who was in South Africa for the World Cup and said, “As the 2010 Cup slogan goes, “Feel it. It is here.” Well, I have felt it, because I am here. Thank you South Africa, for giving me this unexpected gift. I am humbled.”