Thu, Jul 15, 2010 - Page 9 News List

The World Cup has given South Africa new hope for the future

The quality of the soccer this year was not deserving of the incredible effort that South Africans displayed by hosting one of the world’s largest public events

By Richard Williams  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

On the outward journey, we wondered if South Africa would be worthy of the World Cup. We left for home on July 12 with the uneasy feeling that the World Cup had not lived up to the welcome and the facilities provided by its hosts.

They gave us their vast and spectacular new stadiums, their best shot at building an integrated transport system from scratch and their kindness and consideration at just about every turn. We gave them a rubbish final from which only the winners could take genuine pleasure.

However, in the tradition of gracious hosts they pretended not to notice. A national hangover was predicted for Monday morning, but flags were still flying on cars and buildings as the last of their 400,000 or so World Cup visitors made for the airports, carrying a variety of memories away with them.

An inkling of how it was going to be came on the day before the opening match, during an impromptu trip to Soweto. In one of that vast township’s more remote districts — named Jabulani, the isiZulu word for “joy” appropriated by the manufacturers of this year’s tournament’s official ball — we found a group of small boys who call themselves Jabulani Arsenal, practicing under the strict supervision of a teenage girl with a referee’s whistle.

Their embryonic skills — particularly those of a tiny child, about eight years old, known to his friends as “Little Drogba” — were matched by the enthusiasm with which they discussed their heroes, many of them the stars of Britain’s own dear Premier League. They could no sooner have acquired a ticket for a World Cup match at Soccer City, less than 8km away, than flown to the moon, and they were far away from the soccer academy set up in a more tourist-friendly part of Soweto by a multinational corporation, but their excitement at mere proximity to the event seemed to have a definite value.

This was not a distinguished tournament in the soccer sense, and not even close to being a vintage year such as 1970 or 1986. The abject failure of the designated superstars — Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Lionel Messi, Kaka and Wayne Rooney — amused those who like to see the all-powerful shoe companies having their poster campaigns jammed down their throats, but it diminished the quality of the spectacle.

Collective endeavor won this World Cup, which is no bad thing in itself, since soccer is a team game, but the nature of the final match underlined the fact that the tournament was won by a team who scored only eight goals in their seven matches. That is three fewer than the next lowest total, recorded by England in 1966, when the winners played only six matches, and Brazil in 1994.

Some of the commercial aspects of the tournament were grating, or worse. The marketing of the Adidas Jabulani ball, a substandard object that came close to ruining the actual play, was as repulsive as the exorbitant price of match tickets. Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, Johannesburg’s upscale business and shopping district, is hardly a thing of beauty, but such qualities as it has were swamped when Sony was allowed to plonk a massive dome in its middle.

The episode in which private jets were allowed to park all over Durban’s new King Shaka airport, preventing commercial flights from landing and stopping several hundred people from attending a semi-final that they had bought tickets, exposed an unhealthy desire to please VIPs.

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