Friday, June 11, 2010

"Begin the begin..."

‘SOUTH Africa 2010 – it’s possible.’
The old slogan could have done with a little extra oomph, when planners made a courtesy call on Euro 2008 – perhaps cowed by the power of Euro-scepticism. Or, simply, cynicism.
Doom’n’gloomy headline revenge may well be wreaked on Olympic London in two years’ time.
But for now, those behind Africa’s first World Cup could be forgiven for feeling a little battered by scare stories, from reasonable alarms about crime and travel safety to fatuous warnings about Egyptian cobras that could each devour two 23-man squads.
Instead, as organisers and volunteers launch one final heave, they look exhilarated – not because the effort’s almost over, but vindication could be theirs.
To risk stating the bleedin’ obvious, Sepp Blatter’s Fifa cannot always be relied upon to get things right.
Putting electronic voting pads to the test at Fifa Congress yesterday, seven blazers still somehow answered ‘No’ to the simple sample question: ‘Are Italy the reigning world champions?’
But giving South Africa a World Cup of its own – even at the second time of asking – was a leap of faith that could prove its own reward.
Many toiling in squalid slums or refugee camps might well wonder still what they get from a tournament costing £4billion while pumping hefty profits into Fifa coffers.
True, the World Cup spotlight has helped stimulate some healthcare and education aid, from Fifa’s ‘Football For Hope’ scheme to many smaller-scale, grass-roots initiatives.
Yet today might provide a more persuasive answer – albeit one richer in emotion than redistributive hard cash.
Nelson Mandela and fellow Robben Island prisoners used to bolster morale with competitive kickabouts, or tuning into scratchy snatches of World Cup radio commentary.
Now football, always favoured by the black majority, can invade and upgrade venues once the preserve of the rugby-loving Afrikaaner minority – with access to soccer stadia happily traded in return.
Today’s message is ‘Africa United’, convincing even if prominent poster boys Michael Essien and Jon Obi Mikel have become injured absent friends.
A traditional sangoma forecasts a valiant South African defeat in the final, having ‘thrown and read the bones’ – a grislier twist on the remains of the Earl Grey.
Speak to many ‘Bafana Bafana’ fans and they’ll suggest no such thing – seeing a semi-final place as rather more realistic. For now.
Yes, it’s that clichéd – yet irresistible – ‘feelgood factor’, sweeping a country, a continent – and from a few hours’ time, a whole small world too.
And well, if the South Africans can’t blow their own trumpet…
Speaking of which, Wednesday was official National Vuvuzela Day, with the instruction to honk hard on those horns for 15 minutes solid at midday.
(Don’t worry – there are only another 31 unofficial national vuvuzela days ahead.)
And when it all comes to an end on July 11, so what if these stunningly unique – and expensive – stadia, their vivid paint still damp, get used for nothing so significant ever again?
Because, ah, look at what they’re being used for now.
That is, showcasing the Rooneys, Messis, Pienaars and surprise heroes still to stake a claim – enthralling
3million fanatics in the stands and 3billion pairs of eyes goggling at the box.
South Africa 2010 – it’s here. Anything’s possible.

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