This First World Cup in Africa?
As another FIFA World Cup is about to start, this time in South Africa, the first one to be held on that continent and the natural excitement the world’s most popular sport always generates, it’ll have very few differences from recent editions.
Once again, the host country has almost no chance of winning the competition, despite the exacerbated enthusiasm the home team usually entails. In its initial stages, the month long tournament will certainly produce the customary surprises and heartbreaking eliminations, and reveal some exceptional players no one had heard much of before that will galvanize games and fans alike.
But as the competition progresses, its natural contenders will emerge and the great majority of them, with little change, will be the same ones that find themselves in this position every time. It’s not fun to be warned about this, but chances are the country winner will have won the competition at least once before.
This edition may be considered a milestone because of its location but it won’t differ much in its organization, official languages spoken or expected attendance from others held at any other part of the globe.
Yes, it may not sell many tickets by credit cards or via Internet to Africans, for most of them still live under the poverty line and on the other side of the digital divide, Bill Gates and others’ initiatives not withstanding. But it’ll still sell gazillions of tickets and Johannesburg, for example, will certainly be invaded by a crowd outnumbering its own residents.
FIFA will profit handsomely from it as always, as it has from previous editions and even other competitions it organizes. As it expands and increases its participants, the Zurich-based organization knows a thing or two about globalization as a means to multiply business opportunities and create demand. It’s no wonder; FIFA’s shrewdness has helped it to keep a firm grip on the sport and its rules for over 100 years.
But for followers of football, as the sport is known the world over, these are the irrelevant tidbits of information that get completely, and justly, forgotten the moment the ball starts rolling. That’s when memories start to form, reputations are built or ruined forever, and the gods of the sport begin to hold their court.
May this be the World Cup to value artistry over competition, sportsmanship over drive, historical excellence over shortsighted expedience. And, as that old Beatle song goes, the time for great players and teams to challenge the world. But I honestly doubt it.