Sunday, June 13, 2010

South Africa Welcomes the World Cup

This the moment South Africa has waited a long time for: hosting a major international sporting event. After being denied the right to compete in international sporting events such as the Olympics in the 1970s and 1980s because of their apartheid system, their athletes were finally welcomed to compete in the 1990s and President Nelson Mandela oversawthe country's first major international hosting duties: the 1995 Rugby World Cup in which the South African team won a crucial victory for the country.

Its no secret that South Africa wants to host a Summer Olympic Games. Cape Town had already made a bid for the 2004 Olympics and is apparently trying for the 2020 or 2024 games. Much of that will depend on how the World Cup plays out (the high crime rate remains a major concern). Cape Town is definitely a worthy host city for the Olympics, with its panoramic vistas of Table Mountain, Dutch Colonial and Victorian architecture, and the Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean.

I love the official logo of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, how the colours of the South African flag form the shape of the African continent. Very artsy and well done.

The mascot is interesting, as well. It looks like a merging of a leopard and that little green guy who accompanies the Jolly Green Giant. In 1994, when South Africa unveiled its new flag, I was seriously impressed. It is my favourite flag of all the nations of the world (Australia would be second on my list). There is a lot of symbolism involved. The red, white, and blue portion represents the Dutch, French, and British ancestry of the white South Africans, and the black, yellow, and green represents the African tribes. The green stripe represents the merging of the two groups into a common future. For a flag, its simple, colourful, and highly symbolic. Just the way I love it!

I first started paying attention the World Cup in 1990, when Italy had hosting duties. I didn't know at the time that I would be living in Italy a year later. In fact, when I arrived in September 1991, stores were still selling souvenirs from the World Cup. Four years later, the USA hosted the World Cup, but I was still living in Italy. How's that for being in the wrong countries in 1990 and 1994?

1998 was the year that I really got into the World Cup because my favourite country was hosting the games. That would be France, for those who can't remember. I had thought of doing a summer abroad in France that year, and had I known that France would win the World Cup that year, I definitely would have made a point to study that summer in Paris. That was such an awesome victory. I was every bit as happy as the partying French on the Avenue des Champs Elysees (the most beautiful street in the world). It was a great victory. Since I happened to be in France in 1997, I did buy one of their plush mascots because it looked a lot like the Jayhawk mascot of the University of Kansas (where my dad went to college). When I first saw it in a store, my reaction was, "Why are the French selling Jayhawk dolls?" My dad was even surprised by it when I showed him.

For some reason, 2002 draws a blank. I don't remember anything about the World Cup that year. In 2006, I was once again into the World Cup. It was in Germany and I remember being outraged when the French star player Zindane did something stupid to cost the French a possible win. I can't remember what he did, but it was pretty outrageous. Italy won that year, which was just as well, since Germany won in 1990 when Italy had hosting duties. I still suspect an Axis Powers conspiracy to those wins.

Pictured above is South Africa's iconic national treasure Nelson Mandela, holding the World Cup. He was unable to attend the opening match due to the unexpected death of one of his granddaughters in a car accident. Its hard to believe that he will turn 92 this July. His funeral someday is going to be huge. He's probably the most beloved person on the planet since Princess Diana passed on to the spiritual realm.

For this year's World Cup, I'm rooting for South Africa to win (of course). I'm also rooting for France, Australia, and the USA. According to the news, Americans have bought the most tickets to these games (after South Africans, of course), which is surprising. Who says that our country is in a recession? I'd like to know how so many of these Americans are able to afford a vacation in South Africa this summer. Of course, if I had the money, I'd be there too. I love South Africa! My 1994 vacation there is still the best vacation of my life (despite being robbed at knifepoint my second night there).

The picture above shows all of the soccer stadiums being used for these World Cup games. The one in Durban is the most interesting, architecturally. Destined to become a tourist attraction in its own right, due to the "rainbow" that rises above the center of the stadium. I wonder why they put that distinctive stadium in Durban, rather than Cape Town? I had read that Durban was competing with Cape Town for the rights to host the Summer Olympic Games. South Africa would be stupid to nominate any city other than Cape Town, the most beautiful of their cities (essentially South Africa's San Francisco). Durban is probably the South African version of Miami.

Here's to an exciting month of soccer mania! I haven't watched any games yet. I wanted to see the England vs. USA game on Saturday, but I got lazy and stayed home instead. I'm surprised by all the 1-1 ties so far (in the France game, the South Africa vs. Mexico match, and the England - USA header). It's pretty intense. Winning this event is considered to be the most coveted sporting prize in the world. Every four years, commentators wonder if soccer will finally catch on in the USA. I believe, always, that it only crests with the World Cup. Soccer is not compatable with our capitalistic system. Advertisers have to be content with their logos on the uniform shirt or on the walls of the stadium. Its hard to break for commercials, the way American football does, with its many calls and time-outs. Soccer is considered "the most beautiful game." Sure, it's low scoring, but there's a flow to it. For me, its hard to watch football because of all the interruptions. I like the flow of a soccer game. However, I'm not a big sports fan, so I don't follow teams nor do I care about the rankings. I just watch big sporting events when I can. Hopefully, I'll be able to watch a few World Cup games before the month is over.

Go Bafana Bafana! Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika!

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