It is time for Africa, bring on the World Cup

After six years of waiting, South Africa will roll out the red carpet for the world’s biggest sporting bonanza when the 2010 World Cup kicks off in Johannesburg on Friday afternoon.

And for the next month, everything else – the war against terrorism, oil spills, floods, fight against hunger et al will take the back burner as football fever grips the attention of majority of the world’s population.

The build up to the 2010 Copa Mundial has been bigger than ever with news wire services from all over the world giving minute by minute reports as kickoff draws near.

But why is this particular edition special?

Friday marks a historic moment because for the first time in its storied 80 year history, the World Cup is being hosted on the ‘dark’ continent.

That a continent associated with poverty, illiteracy, war and corruption will play hosts to the world’s glitterati for the next month is a milestone for its inhabitants.

Fifa certainly played its part to ensure that Africa got its chance.

Soon after South Africa lost the bid to host the 2006 edition in 2000, Fifa President Sepp Blatter proposed the rotational system which meant that the next world cup would have to be held in Africa with the 2014 edition being held in South America.

After South Africa, Brazil will host the tournament in 2014.

But this rule was again reviewed in 2007 with Fifa deciding that all bidders be given equal chance.

What this means that an African country will have to compete against European and Asian powerhouses rendering chances of a world cup being held in Africa in the next 50 years next to impossible.

To put matters into perspective, Europe has hosted it 10 times, South America four times, North America thrice and just once in the Far East!

So important was winning the rights to host it that South Africa’s founding father Nelson Mandela, then 85 years old, defied doctors’ orders to travel to Switzerland for the 2000 Congress where SA got the bid.
And with the 91-year old set to defy doctors again to attend the opening ceremony – if only for a few minutes – it’s little wonder that our own President Kibaki chose to become the first Head of State to skip the rigours of listening to the annual budget to join other dignitaries down South.

That it’s being played in Africa also goes a long way to prove doubting Thomases wrong. Since May 2004 when South Africa won the vote, the big question fronted by the Western media had been whether South Africa would be prepared.

Would the stadiums be ready? Would tickets be sold? Would it be profitable? But like 2010 Organizing Committee CEO Dr Danny Jordaan says, South Africa has proved everyone wrong on every count with Blatter again providing unshakeable backing.
And just what legacy will the world cup leave behind? South Africa has benefited from an unprecedented infrastructure upgrade with roads being redone while the speed train will forever be associated with the World Cup.

For the rest of Africa, Fifa has started several initiatives with the "Win in Africa with Africa", as well as laying astro turf pitches all over Africa in a bid to support the game. Yes it’s not enough but in a continent besieged by a myriad of issues, it does help.

I cannot end this blog without mentioning the Vuvuzela.  The incredibly loud instrument of choice for South African supporters has caused uproar with players like Spain’s Xabi Alonso and Germany’s Arne Friedrich saying the din it causes is too loud. Heck, even scientists have done studies whose findings say that it could cause hearing loss.

But just like he stood by South Africa throughout the build up, Blatter would hear none of it, "Vuvuzelas, drums and singing are part of African football culture. It is part of their celebration; it is part of their culture and let them blow it."

While it may not compare to one held in Europe, one thing is certain, it will be the loudest, most colourful and most vibrant World Cup in history.

Bring it on.

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