Farewell Half Cup

The Thrill Went Missing

From South African Fields

They showed up for Messi, for Kaká, for Rooney and for Eto’o. But if it hadn’t been for Donovan, for Klose, Honda or Robben, they would’ve left empty handed.
Along with Sneijder and Robinho and Gyan and Drogba, this mid-rank bunch had to make it do due to the scarcities of this cup.
They all thought that Argentina against Mexico, Brazil versus Netherlands, Germany against England or Uruguay versus Ghana would be matches for the ages. But made of quiet desperation or a frenetic show of goals, none of them got in the league of the greatest ever played.
They expected fireworks from the clash of cultures, of offensive and unbound flair against the discipline of well-trained armies, of South American dribbling and improvisation to the European deference to experience and game plans. But came out each time lacking of what never even made it to Africa: the spark, a flash, the lightning bolt.
The stars sent their look-alikes. The top teams, their holographic displays. And within arenas heavily insulated from the host continent, they played their bureaucratic diagrams on a field of artificial lines.
Robots impersonating flesh and blood referees faked their way through decisions, and many a faulty call ruined legitimate fair plays. In the end it was if we’re still living in Super 8 times, with no instant replay or high definition precision. Thus bad rules enforced on the moment were autocratically above any appeal for later change.
This was the most hollow of all editions of the World Cup. It packaged its history and sold it like soap. It used a hard-earned credibility to justify an unconvincing progression. And reduced its global democratic image to a catchy slogan with a borrowed native beat.
If this is FIFA’s idea for an arresting show, maybe it’s time for it to leave the stage. This game is already way too rich, way too static, and way too elitist to convey any resemblance of joy and communion. When it comes to this level, its main stars are simply too tired, too jaded, too unsold on the idea of doing it for country and glory.
And the colors of the game stripes are already fading. And the call for patriotism too embedded with carnage. And any sense of social justice is as alien as its potential for promoting art and substance over pomp and social rank.
Football as passion will transcend all this, of course. And so will its ability to encapsulate a life experience within 90 minutes or less. What it can no longer pass for is what used to be called authenticity. And that’s just fine. Just don’t pretend we don’t already know all about it.
They paid to see a sport show, not a sorry display of unjust rules and spoiled actors, pretending the high price of the ticket doesn’t also include an extra drop of their sweat. They came from distant places to get to know a bit more about this land. They left as if all they saw was a bad-drawn replica of what they’d left at home.
No different songs to sing, for the main attractions were mostly foreigners like them. No new language to learn because Coca-Cola or McDonald speak only one tongue and it’s native to nowhere. And, ultimately, not new human experiences because the majority of Africans could not even afford to see the games.
They’re leaving with something missing. Some wonder why they even bothered coming or packed back such a bitter sauce.
So, for the champions and their fans, our grandest congratulations. For everyone else, this game may no longer be worth the price of the ticket.

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