Competitive SA is imperative for 2010

This may come to pass if the German government heeds the suggestion by the world soccer boss that the global showcase should be cancelled should the avian epidemic start putting human lives at risk. Asked about the threat to the tournament of the bird flu which has so far attacked the wild bird species in Germany and, lately, a cat, Mr Blatter said there was none and then proceeded: “But if bird flu developed into a threat, like the plague or cholera, if people are infecting people, then the government must take a decision. We would have to respect that.” The world’s greatest single sport spectacle stymied by a bird affliction! Now, that, my friends, would be fowl play. Germany 2006. That is around the corner now. But, for us, the big one is the one after that one-South Africa 2010. When the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad were awarded to Athens, Greece, the pay-off line was to the effect that the Olympics were coming home’the Greek capital being where the ancient Games began. When the World Cup was awarded to England the last time out, it was the same’the Isles being where Association Football, indeed even the other variety, has its roots. With South Africa 2010, all of us denizens of the region are shouting ourselves hoarse that the World Cup soccer tournament is coming home. Imagine our delight then when we read during the week that South African Minister of Sport Makhenkesi Stofile is mulling the possibility of expanding the 2010 extravaganza to Lesotho, Mozambique and other southern African countries so that the event, being held on our soil for the first time ever, becomes a truly African tournament. Hear, hear! That would really bring it home. Note: this is not the first major tournament we have hosted. There was the Rugby World Cup in South Africa in 1995, the All-Africa Games in Zimbabwe that same year, the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in South Africa in 1996 and the 7th All-Africa Games there again in 1999. Then in 2003 South Africa won the right to host the International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup tournament. They behaved true to the manner of the people of the way ‘ to borrow the phrase from Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons ‘ that we share the good and, ipso facto, the bad. The United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) invited Kenya and Zimbabwe to share-to paraphrase President Thabo Mbeki in his Foreword as Patron of the ICC Cricket World Cup South Africa 2003 ‘ in the faith the world cricket body had put in their country and the continent. So 2010 will not be the first major tournament the region has hosted. And if it does come to pass, and we hope it will, it will not be the first time that South Africa has generously extended its good fortune to its neighbours. But make no mistake: any other tournament we have ever hosted pales in comparison to South Africa 2010. We are talking football, soccer you know, and we are talking world. Not world as in the Baseball World Series where the United States entertains itself, or world as in Michael Jackson’s World Tour which does not come to Africa, but world as in’World! Do you read me, over? Which is why it is vital that the South Africa soccer team for 2010 be in a shape unlike the one that was at the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in Egypt earlier this year. I wanted to say that competed but then Bafana Bafana did not do that. After displays of disgrace against Guinea and Tunisia, South Africa went on to go down one-nil to regional neighbours Zambia, in the process joining Egypt, Gabon and Mozambique in the continental Hall of Shame for those countries that have exited the continental soccer showcase without an impression on either the goal-net or the scoreboard. This will not do for 2010. Eish, Majita! From Majita to Majola: “The host country of a world event is always under much pressure to perform on and off the field. I have every confidence that South Africa will be able to do both during this ICC Cricket World Cup. Both forms of performance are important to us as a nation, as they can be used as the foundations for sustainable improvement in the lives of our people.” Gerald Majola, the UCB Chief Executive Officer, was writing in his welcome message ahead of the world cricket showcase in South Africa three years ago. Unfortunately for him, the Proteas did not live up to his confidence: going out at group stage after a loss to the West Indies thanks to someone who, like the writer, was not good with figures and so got mixed up in calculating that cricket deus ex machina, the Duckworth-Lewis System. But South African teams did do well in the other tournaments the country hosted, and, true to what Majola said, not only were those tournaments roaring successes but the sports have since gone on to continue to withdraw from the goodwill generated then. The Springboks beat the All Blacks of New Zealand in 1995 to take the mantle of world rugby, and Bafana Bafana hit two without reply past the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia the next year to win the battle for continental soccer supremacy. South Africa has become the only southern African country to win the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament. Now, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown! It was refreshing then to read during the week that there are plans to make Bafana Bafana men again. South Africans do not have a reputation of filling stadia to watch soccer matches, let alone those that do not feature Bafana Bafana. They share that trait with the Egyptians. But note how crowded the Cairo International Stadium was each time the Pharaohs took to the field. And then on the day of the final match, eish! We have seen such “humanity” before: during the Super Bowl in the United States, the Australian Rules Football or cricket at the MCG, and the Rugby Final in South Africa. And in Zimbabwe during those intense conflicts between the Dynamos and Highlanders Football Clubs of yore. We love to see such crowds. It is a refreshing sight. It rekindles our faith in the human race after the incessant diet of the bayoneted pregnant woman in the Darfur region, the mutilated suicide bomber in Jerusalem, the starving Kenyan child and the emarciated AIDS patient in Zambia we are fed by western television. We would love to see such crowds in South Africa in 2010. But we will not see them if Bafana Bafana do not do well in that tournament.

March 2006
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