One day we will reach the destination

Hostilities, Mr Banda? Yes, hostilities. But what are you talking about? The big event that everyone is talking about is the Fifa World Cup soccer tournament. That is what I too am talking about. But then we do not see how you can refer to its being played as hostilities. Hold it, folks. Consider Malcolm Allison in The Observer in 1973: “Professional football is no longer a game. It’s a war. And it brings out the same primitive instincts that go back thousands of years.” Hear, hear, hear! I did not say that myself. Someone said it, and not even yesterday. So it should be right because if it was not, over the years the statement would have lost popular currency. So Germany has played Costa Rica, has it? How was the opening ceremony? You enjoyed it? Good. You can understand how it makes sense for the host to play in the opening match, but hey, it does things for prognosis. What if the host loses in the opener- what does that do to the tournament? What if they are held to a draw by a minor? Oh, I hear you say that there are no more lightweights in the modern game? Give me a break, Dear Reader. Our beloved Zimbabwe takes on the Selecao at the World Cup and you harbour thoughts of us beating Brazil, never mind drawing? Why would it then be called a “shock” if it was normal? I for one will not berate any of our defenders who experiences twisted blood at the feet of the 2004 and 2005 Fifa World Player of the Year. I will just ask that he learns from the experience and becomes a better player for next time. I hear you ask why then countries such as ours should go to the World Cup if we cannot win it. Correction: it is not that we cannot win, it is that we will not win it. Certainly not just now. And I say that is how it should be. We should go in the first instance to celebrate our membership of the international soccer family. As a member, we have the right, unless otherwise sanctioned, to take part in qualifiers and, if we make it, to then proceed to the tournament. Secondly, we should go there for our players to gain experience on the field, for us to expose our emerging talent to the world leading to better pay for them and better play as they constantly engage better players, the process coming back home in the form of a better player for the national team and therefore better play from the country leading to our being more competitive the next time out. Consider too the other benefits: better standard of living for the player and his own, his investment back home, his being a lobbying agent for our governments to keep sport on the national agenda that it sits so precariously among other “more pressing issues” and his being a marketing tool to youngsters back home to be motivated and engage in healthy pursuits etc, etc. A friend was looking over my shoulder when I typed the last bit and said: “I knew you would come short one day!” “Come short? How do you mean come short?” I asked. “Well, Mr Banda, you have just written there ‘etc’ which means ‘end of thinking capacity.'” Hear, hear, hear! Right. Thirdly, we go there for our players to gain experience off the field of play, to learn from those who are already at the peak of their game that in competitive sport, what goes in stays in. You take drugs, they stay in. They will then be detected by the anti-doping apparatus. You take in such amounts of legal products of an intoxicating nature as are not in keeping with an elite athlete- and they stay in. Come second half and you are dehydrating. You keep late nights and you reap the whirlwind of a machine not given enough rest. On the other hand, you work on your dead ball scenarios and that too stays in and you can reproduce it at that highest stage. All those hours spent in the gymnasium working on fitness and flexibility stay in and that body will repay you during competition for having prepared it adequately. Fourthly, we go there for our administrators to rub shoulders with their own and exchange notes and learn from the coal-face how such things are done so that when it is our chance we do not let the world down. We do not have our visitors go back to their countries and when they are asked how the tournament was they sigh and say: “It was in Africa, you know.” I want us to reach such a stage that, in terms of our ability, we will not be in Africa. We will be in the world. Right now we are Africans, yes, and equal members of the world family. But there are still some who are first among equals. There is still Brazil, comrades. Five time winners of this thing. That is more than any other country has done. The penta! And now they are looking at taking it further still. Six time winners? The hexa! And you ask Angola, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo to go there and bring this thing home? Would it still be the holy grail if it can be acquired so easily. I say not. I say I understand when virgins have problems on their first night that veterans of the bedroom wars- Mr Banda, there you go again talking about hostilities- do not, and will not, have because they have already had. Tunisia have been there before and we would like to see the Carthage Eagles build up on that. It is their fourth tournament but if you are so keen on on-field successes you will be disappointed to hear that they are still waiting for their second victory. That is how it is out there. Just one goal and one point from 1998 and 2002. We have to be realistic, ladies and gentlemen. It is tough out there. And so, for the other four, go there and enjoy yourselves. Learn. A lot. And bring back those lessons. Be Prometheus and bring back the light for us to illuminate our soccer. Use your time out there so wisely that one day we will not use where we come from as an excuse. I want us to send African soccer representatives to the global soccer meeting. Not teams from Africa that will embarrass us out there and then return with excuses based on the alleged, conjured, concocted or perceived tyranny of place. And so, for me, Germany 2006 is not a destination for Africa. It is a journey. Over the next month, I just want evidence from our five representatives that one day we will reach the destination.

June 2006
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