World in Motion…

11 06 2010

And so, after months of waiting, after months of hearing everyone from the PM (probably) down to the postman speculating about it, and after months of ill-conceived hype, the World Cup kicks off today. Which is great if, like me you love football. Perhaps not so great if you are one of the many who doesn’t enjoy watching or hearing about the game, or indeed, having it stuffed down your throat by every television and radio channel this side of Mars. Fortunately Big Brother began again on Wednesday, so perhaps there is an alternative to watching the football after all. If you enjoy watching nobodies wasting their lives in a fish-bowl environment.

Anyway, regardless of what you think about football, you cannot begrudge the impact the sport has worldwide. Let us not forget that South Africa is a country which is still rebuilding, which is still trying to overcome racism issues, violence issues and medical issues. Let us not forget that in the grand scheme of things 20 years since the end of apartheid isn’t really that long. But also let us not forget that winning the World Cup bid has transformed the country. On a practical level, infrastructure has been forced to improve, with roads, rail and other transport links all having to be upgraded. Tourism facilities have also had to be improved to cope with the sheer number of people expected to be in the country for the next month. These are not temporary changes. Yes, they have been done for the World Cup, but it is the legacy which is of even greater significance. Add to this the windfall the country will receive  from tourism and FIFA and this money will surely help development even further.

The World Cup will also unite the country, just as the Rugby World Cup did back in 1994. It will make South Africa a place where there are, at least for a month, no class divides and no racial divides. There is just a love for the sport. A passion which is stronger than all the divides in even the most deeply divided places.

The lasting memory of my trip to Africa five years ago was playing football with the local school children in a rural village nestled in the heart of a small mountain range. The smiles on their faces, the enjoyment of the sport and the freedom they had whilst playing was just a joy to behold. This was a village in rural Tanzania, and yet I would expect the reaction to be the same almost worldwide. Show some children a football and they will know what to do with it. You only have to look at the multi-cultural nature of the British leagues to know that this is true. Football has the unique power to pull people together, to inspire people and to overcome, at least temporarily, any problems.

I’m not sure there are many things in the world which could place the delegates of North and South Korea next to each other, but football managed it a few days ago when Sepp Blatter (of whom I have been more than critical) was talking about a similar thing. For all people may dislike the sport because of the growing commercialism associated with it (recently health agencies were critical of FIFA for having so many unhealthy sponsors of the tournament), you cannot begrudge the power of the sport. I’m hoping that this tournament will be a success, remembered for all the right reasons. I’m also hoping that the legacy of the tournament will live longer than the memory of it.

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