My dear friend Adam Boros has written some guest posts for this blog over the last year. He has lived in Johannesburg for the last five years and has had a first row seat to the build up (both physical and emotional) to the World Cup during that time period. Below, he provides his perspective, with the games now fewer than two weeks away!
May 30, 2010
Johannesburg, South Africa – 14 days. For those of us in South Africa who have watched a countdown that started somewhere over 1,000, the fact that the World Cup kicks off two weeks from today is surreal. The long wait is nearing its conclusion and to say that we are excited is a comical understatement. The country is infected with football fever and it is difficult to spend an hour without hearing or seeing or feeling some reminder of the biggest sporting event in the world. It is difficult for me to put into words the emotions that I am feeling in the final stretch because I have rarely been this excited for any kind of event in my life. So I will settle for a few musings…
- Fridays – like today – are the best day of the week. For the past few months, South Africa has celebrated Football Fridays every week, when people are encouraged to fly the South African flag wherever and however they can and wear a Bafana Bafana jersey. It has been amazing to see how each week, more and more South Africans don the yellow or green Bafana jersey or affix a flag to their car (or strap SA flag covers on their sideview mirrors in an especially stylish display). Perhaps most amazingly, the people that you least expect to be demonstrating their love of soccer and the national team seem to be the most ardent supporters of the day. Soccer in South Africa is undoubtedly a ‘black’ sport, with few whites showing much interest in local teams or games. But on Friday, elderly white women and big, rugby-loving Afrikaners are proudly Bafana Bafana. Not to mention politicians – it is an entertaining (and refreshing) site to see the national president wearing a soccer jersey to important meetings and events.
- For those of you who have seen Invictus (which I did not really care for), you will understand that sport has often played an important role in race relations here. In that tradition, the World Cup is already having some unexpected benefits for racial reconciliation in the country. Due to the need to keep football pitches pristine, the best rugby team in the country (the Blue Bulls) was forced to shift its home semifinal of an important tournament from Pretoria to Soweto last week Saturday. Moving a sporting event from one stadium to another less than an hour away would hardly be front page news in most places around the world. But this represented the first premier league professional rugby match ever to be played in a black township. The political and social importance of this event is difficult to overstate, and difficult to understand for anyone who has not spent significant time in the country. To see busloads of Afrikaners flooding into Soweto – a place that I can safely say only a tiny minority had ever ventured into – was a beautiful site. As the captain of the Blue Bulls said after the game, it was a perfect display of “how far we have come since 1994.” And without the World Cup, it would not have happened.
- Several months ago, I wrote how I was surprised at how little World Cup advertising was visible around Johannesburg. This is definitely no longer a problem. The other day, as I was driving from one meeting to another across the endless sprawl that is Joburg, I decided to count any World Cup-related advertising that I came across. I drove for probably about 60 kms in total, and never went more than 1 kilometer without seeing a poster, mural or advertisement that mentioned the World Cup in some way. The tournament, without any doubt, is unavoidable!
- The argument that South Africa will reap huge economic benefits from the World Cup is certainly debatable (although I read an article this week that a recent study showed the country’s GDP will increase by an impressive 0.5% from the tournament alone). But I have been especially surprised (and even shocked) at how tightly FIFA controls every last component of the tournament, and stifles local economic enrichment in the process. Without any doubt, the most tragic example of this is the barring of local people selling local food at the stadiums during games (tragic for both the locals and the tourists!). But there is no question that the infrastructural improvements that will last long after July 11 are a huge boon to the country. Although I do not think there is a single Joburger who is not incredibly sick of huge traffic jams, reduced speed limits and reroutes and detours, when all is said and done the new road network, public transport systems and other improvements will make the country a better place to work and live.
- They may have less utility, but the most impressive infrastructure projects are certainly the stadiums. All of the new World Cup stadiums are beautiful and state-of-the-art. Last Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the first ever match to be played at Soccer City. It was a tournament final between two less popular local teams that would normally draw a crowd of a few thousand. On Saturday there were 80,000. If ever there was a stadium to draw a crowd more easily than the participating teams, this is it. It is truly world-class, and the helicopter shots of the ‘Calabash’ with Johannesburg in the background were absolutely beautiful. I went again last night for the first Bafana match to be played there and the atmosphere was unreal. Pure joy, excitement and noise for 90 minutes.
And on June 11th, just 14 days from now, the entire country will be blowing their vuvuzelas, sporting their national jerseys, singing to their hearts content and fighting back tears of joy as Mexico and Bafana kick-off at Soccer City. Of all the official slogans used by FIFA over the past few years, there is only one that truly captures what this tournament means. For too long, Africa is only in the news due to civil war, starvation and poverty. I believe that the 2010 World Cup will be the first time that the entire world will, and must, ‘celebrate Africa’s humanity.’
Woza June 11!!!