IT’S official football craze is now in full swing. The world’s biggest men’s soccer contest with 32 participating countries kicked off on June 12 in Brazil the host nation. A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 cities across Brazil.
Brazilians are well known for being a soccer loving country. However, this tournament has been staged amid much internal controversy.
The background to all the hype and hysteria accompanying the euphoria of the opening ceremony saw a lot of discontented Brazilians who took to the streets in the country’s 10 cities to demonstrate.
The protest was largely against the $11 billion spent in preparation for the World Cup, money which is felt could have been better spent on education, health and housing the poor. If there’s any lesson to be learnt it’s that stadia are hardly economic assets.
Ask South Africa, a country that spent R16,5 billion in preparation for the 2010 World Cup. The only thing that was beneficial to the country was transport upgrades. Nine out of the ten new stadiums that were built during the time are now liabilities for the country.
The FNB Stadium, aka Soccer City, is probably the only stadium that continues to be sustainable due to hosting concerts and soccer derbies. In other municipalities the stadia have become white elephants as they fail to generate a cent, but rather chew into budgets in terms of upkeep.
However, it was not all doom and gloom in Brazil when crowds were dispersed with teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. The opening ceremony tried to showcase the cultural and environmental diversity of the country with a rather disappointing display at Sao Paolo’s Corinthian’s Arena.
The exhibition supposedly took four months to prepare. However, many will agree it looked like it was hashed together over a period of probably four weeks. The outcome was that of a shoddy amateurish school play production. The major highlight was probably the showcasing of Latina artists: Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and some nameless beauty in a blue leotard.
These three were supposed to present the official soundtrack of the World Cup We are One which we did not get to hear amidst the appalling sound quality. The only redeeming thing about the kick-off was the opening match between Croatia and Brazil. Soccer enthusiasts were undoubtedly kept at the edge of their seats till half time when both countries were at one-all.
However, in the second half Brazil went on to secure a decisive win. Let us be reminded that Brazil have won the prestigious event a record five times and it is their desire to win it for the sixth time. So we will wait to see if their ambitions would materialise over the next 30 days as the Fifa tournament continues. This competition has undoubtedly got longevity with its roots way back in the 1930s.
In the history of the World Cup, the choice of location has always been controversial. Such was the case when it was to be held on African ground in 2010.
Many had predicted doom and complete failure yet Fifa 2010 remains one of the wildly successful tournaments to date.
Prior to this, the World Cup has rotated largely between Americas and Europe. Only after 2002 did it move to Asian soil and eventually African ground. There has always been controversy over the bidding process in which a host country was selected.
The latest of course involves allegations of fraud surrounding the Qatar selection to host the 2022 World Cup. Sony, Visa and Adidas who are the heavyweight sponsors behind the game are calling for further investigation into the bribery allegations as this is clearly damaging the reputation of the game.
However, corruption aside, it is great to see Africa represented by Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. It is my hope that at least one African country would make a showing in the quarter-finals. I know I am being ambitious, but there is nothing wrong with setting high standards. I am not your typical soccer fan, but I do jump onto the bandwagon for the big tournaments like Confederations Cup and African Cup of Nations. However, for the most part I tend to stay away from soccer rhetoric.
I know a lot of wives and girlfriends are relieved that they have to contend with the madness every four years as many will attest to becoming football widows for the duration of the tournament. But you know what they say; if you can’t beat them then join them! So you might as well get stuck on penalty-kicks and offsides. It isn’t over till the finals in July!
Sue Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi