Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The World At Play - A Reflection

A chance to shine

Did you think the soccer world cup was about soccer? It’s a massive fancy dress party, and an excuse to have fun, especially if your team (whoever they are) wins.

Now that my team (the Netherlands) is out of the world cup (in the ugliest game thus far), I’ve been looking at the other teams. Feels a bit like déjà vu – South Africa made their exit at the 2002 world cup fairly early on, but finding a new team to support wasn’t hard. Since I was in Korea I just bought a red ‘Be the reds’ shirt and red bandana and joined the mob of millions of ‘red devils’ in the streets. Korea put on a series of stellar performances that surprised everyone. It took me 5 minutes to learn the two simple songs the Koreans sang over and over again. Singing makes up a big part of this game, so make sure you have something to sing. It was when I was singing DAE-HA-MIN-GUK (and clapping, tata-ta-ta-TA with about 100 000 people around me) that the world cup fever really hit. Walking down the streets of Seoul shouting and singing and hugging strangers after winning the latest match until the wee hours was what it was all about. The world cup is an excuse to celebrate with lots of people, and have plenty of fun.

In Korea that meant spending the build up to these games in buzzy, noisy restaurants, and in many cases, especially after a goal, drinks were bought for everyone (on the house), and sometimes even food. The world cup was the topic of every conversation, and the reason behind every smile. More than once we were invited into a singing room (noraebang) for further merriment, with even more drinks on the house. What made the world cup experience special in Korea, I think, is that Korea felt they were coming of age as a nation, coming onto par with the other top players on the world’s stage – both in terms of the game but also as fully fledged player in the global economy. You could feel this delight, this giddiness – because they had the spotlight of the world on them – and they really basked in it, made the most of it and enjoyed it. Will we I wonder?

This morning on TV I caught a glimpse of the spirit of the world cup in Germany. Of course the country where it happens gives the event a unique taste and color. Germany, with its red, yellow and black, its bratwurst and beer halls, its traditional architecture and modern autos – I’m sure it’s a feast. I’d love to be in Munich again, to see the Koreans again and what they make of German culture (and what Germans make of them), to see Australia, the Netherlands and Brazil play, to see the whole circus and what, who stands out, but especially to see how much the Germans enjoy being the centre of attention.

And now our chance is coming. We’re where the world cup will be next. Gulp. For those South Africans who think the soccer world cup in 2010, here, is going to be like the rugby world cup, think again. Everything is on a much, much larger scale. Half a million well heeled, life loving people swarming through South Africa is going to have a major impact on the locals. It’s a non stop party for a few weeks. Many of the people we’ll encounter are from countries we know little about, and have little idea about their culture. Countries like Ukraine, and Denmark and Croatia for example. When your country faces off against any of these nations, you begin to learn a bit more about your adversary, how different we are, and at the same time, about how the colorful people of this world are essentially the same, caught up in the same game. It’s exciting.

There is also a sexy side to soccer. Some of the most stunning girls try to dazzle, and in Korea there were some very memorable Brazilians and Koreans sporting eye popping outfits. If your team is no longer in the tournament pick another, and be creative. Paint your face, dress up and join the party.

4 years really isn’t a long time, but time enough for us to prepare to be the best hosts that we can be. People all over the country will turn their homes into hotels. We’ll see circus tents sprouting in open fields and picnic braais belching yummy wors smoke all over suburbia. There’ll be t-shirts and merchandising on a grand scale, with plenty of money to be made while the soccer balls bounce around the stadiums, and in backyards everywhere. Our priorities in the meantime should be curbing crime (see article on crime, Penalty: Death Penalty), upgrading our public transport systems, fixing our roads and developing our service industries. Let’s not forget to support our young players who dream about winning the world cup.

I hope our team play, and play well, but even if they don’t it’s our chance to shine as a nation.

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