Where Intelligence Meets News Analysis.

Kicking and Screaming for Gold in South Africa

When empires swallowed empires with sheer force of will and unapologetic brutality, there was little doubt what gods occupied the prayers of mankind.  By virtue of necessity and convenience, Barbarians for example, had to assimilate the culture of the conquering and indestructible Roman armies—and consequently the gods that came with them.  In essence, you had an order in which two-thirds (or almost) of ancient civilization, at given points, were looking up to the same gods.

Now it’s 2010, albeit for a month, that order is about to be restored once again.  Christians will pray through Jesus; Muslims through the prophet Mohammed; Buddhists through Buddha; even atheists will pray through their unbelief; just to reach the ears of one being—the Almighty god of soccer.

For a month in South Africa; Protestants will play against Catholics, Jews against Gentiles, Buddhists against Islamists—and all the chants in the stadiums, though in diverse languages, will be directed toward the god that resides on the pitch below.

As an African, no one can be more thrilled than I am that for 31 days, the eyes of the world will be on this oft-forgotten continent.  For 31 days, the rest of the world will join Africa in celebrating its magical wonders and condemning its evils.

Children around the globe will be finely surprised to see, on their TV sets, that Africa does have roads and people actually live in magnificent buildings other than the huts and trees they’ve been made to believe.

Then the necessary questions will come, the ones most Africans for decades have been asking now: “Why is Africa, with all its black gold (oil) and black ice (diamond), still chained in blackness?”  Some will merely join us to believe our blessings have been our curse, while others will go further by joining us in manufacturing and enforcing solutions to our age-old problems.

Just as much, a study released this past week by the international banking firm Goldman Sachs, found a correlation between a nation’s development (political, economic, and social factors like the rule of law, corruption, the number of mobile phones and computers) and its ranking by FIFA, the international soccer governing body.

It comes as no illusion to me, that for the World Cup to come to Africa for the first time in 70 years, South Africa has been a perfect compromise for a world ever leery of dealing with the troubles that afflict the continent.  For starters, South Africa has the highest Caucasian population in Africa and its social order is as liberal as that of most Western states—which makes her more “homely” and “a-very-much-safer-pick” than your default African state, which is ethnically-concentrated to the core and ultra-conservative by European standards.

Still, South Africa is Africa, and I happily welcome the world to the motherland.

Recently though, on National Public Radio (NPR), I heard veteran sport commentator Frank Deford lambast such decisions to award global sport events to developing states.  His argument, more or less, was that developing states are impoverished to start with, and preparations for such grandiose events only saddle them with greater debts, and they are sooner forgotten once the events are over.

While there might be some rationale to his argument, it undervalues the needed steps some of these states need to undertake for global recognition and overstates the hefty price that comes with such purchase.

The Congo was one of the poorest places on earth in 1974 (and maybe still is), but the Ali-Foreman fight that cost $10 million to secure, amongst many other things, re-energized race relations among black people.  All of a sudden, Mohammed Ali is privy to an Africa he never knew (which was crucial to his advocacy of black mobility in America): he wondered aloud about the existence of an all-black crew on his airplane, a sight he never witnessed before.  Africans in the Congo, as well, found out that the world Heavyweight champion, George Foreman, was black; something that was tremendous in solidifying their pride as Africans when little else was going their way.

No matter how much it cost South Africa in monetary terms to host this World Cup, it’s a price every African will willingly pay.

Well, crunch time is here, and there has been much speculation as to who wins gold this time around.  I for one, will be rooting for the most populous nation on the continent, Nigeria, though little about my national team—the Super Eagles—insight much hope of winning the Cup.

And if they do not win, any of the six African teams (the highest number in the history of the competition), will do just fine.  Every African team is a host so far as Africans are concerned, and since five of the seven nations to have won the Cup won initially as host, this is indeed Africa’s time in the sun.

Oooh yesssss!  I’ll be joining the rest of humanity in this month-long celebration, appealing to the god of soccer for victory at every match—even if it involves me bribing him with some chips, cookies, and Pepsi cans.

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