Wednesday, June 2, 2010

WAKA WAKA!


For those of us irreversibly afflicted by the football bug – soccer as it’s known on this side of the Atlantic – the world outside the game will find itself slowing down almost to a standstill, come June 11. For 30 days, we’ll fall into a football-induced féerie that would do nothing but fuel the fire that’s been smoldering within. Global problems will cease to exist: we’ll want to hear nothing about the global financial crisis that threatened to cripple the likes of Greece and Portugal and so on…[Greeks will likely take to the streets to celebrate their team’s participation in the World Cup, not protest the latest decisions by yet another inept government (are there any other kinds?)]. Nothing about oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico…or tensions on the Gaza strip…or North Korea’s nuclear plans…Afghanistan, Iraq and so on…nothing in that realm preoccupies a soccer fanatic during the World Cup!

So, yes, after years of incertitude, political bickering, delays and drawbacks in completing the stadia and required infrastructure to host the biggest sporting event out there, the World Cup is merely days away… All eyes and hearts of anyone with access to a TV will be drawn to the land of Bafana Bafana, the first African country to host the tournament. All eyes, aside, of course, from those die-hard fans who want to witness the spectacle “live” and were either brave enough, fortunate (or financially positioned) to get tickets and make the trip. Thanks in big measure to Mr. Blatter and his political machine, the promise he made in response to “buying” the votes he needed for reelection is now coming to fruition. To his credit – which rarely can be said of any politician these days – he kept his promise. He finally brought the game to Africa. Will it be a success though? Aside from the aforementioned political victory, there are definitely doubters out there, and if the last choice of political-driven venue is any indication (Korea/Japan in 2002) then, yes, I would venture to say that the jury is still out on this one! Granted, there are considerable differences, which would provide a strong argument to the contrary:

  • Weather: the players will love the cool low twenties and high teens (Celsius) compared to the sweltering 30+ degree heat and 100% humidity that squeezed every ounce of energy out of them eight years ago in Yokohama, Busan, Osaka or Seoul. Even though games will continue to be played at a time that accommodates the millions of TV viewers in Europe, in order to maximize the return on investment of all sponsors who pay through the nose to have their products advertized ($3.2 billion reported by FIFA from media and marketing revenues), the weather conditions should be a big plus for the players. That, in turn, should translate into quality games…
  • Fans: although Rugby is still king in South Africa, and cricket still shows signs of England colonization, there are likely to be more local supporters that understand and embrace “the beautiful game”. Even though travel will not be as convenient (and relatively less expensive) than four years ago in Germany, there should be plenty of die-hards who’ve been saving feverishly to be able to “be there” for it all.
  • Local pride: South Africa is ready to prove to the world that the picture that’s been painted by the Western media is not as gloom. They want to show that Africa – the continent – is ready to improve on the tarnished image of famine, wars, disease and poverty. With over $5 billion spent on infrastructure, looks like they are ready for the big event!

Now, as any aspiring journalist (or casual blogger) would tell you, there’s always a flip side to any story, and this one undoubtedly has – and continues to – waste a lot of ink on the deficiencies (real or perceived) of hosting the tournament in South Africa:

  • Security: No matter how much the organizers would try to tell you that measure have been taken to ensure that safety will not be an issue, you can’t argue with empirical data and reputation: South Africa is ranked #2 in crime (behind Columbia) by a study compiled by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime! I’m sure that statistic has precluded a good portion of fans to re-think the “live” option and choose to watch the games from the comfort of their own couch, or with friends in a pub. The Columbian team has already been a victim of theft (organizers doing a relatively good job in minimizing the incident and keeping the news buried) but one would assume that “security” would have been already taken care of for the teams already on site…Just wondering how this will be addressed once hundreds of thousands of fans gather for the big event.
  • Infrastructure: This is not Germany, with its well-established network of rail, air and freeway transportation. Mediocre at best, and somewhat limited in options, the infrastructure supporting transportation between venues will be a major issue for the organizers. Not too long ago, amid construction delays, strikes, and overall danger to the planned timeline, FIFA was considering cutting its potential losses and going to plan B: moving the venue to one of the backup options, US among them…
  • Visitors: Original projections showed 450,000, yet more recent figures are in the neighborhood of 300,000 (or even as low as 200,000). That would have a significant impact on the ability to recover some of the return on investment…

As for other things related to the tournament, FIFA and the organizers are hit and miss... The title of this blog is Shakira’s “official song” of the World Cup. And although nothing can stand up to the highly energizing “Ole-Ole-Ole” that Ricky Martin (“in the closet” at the time) brought to WC94, this one is catchy enough. It captures the spirit of Africa and some of the spirit of football.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qmB4ZZF_uA&feature=related

Ticket sales, though…not so hot! If many countries asked for additional tickets four years ago, this time around even England – who usually travels well to these tournaments – sent back tickets that it could not sell. Over 160,000 tickets were still available on May 28th, and none of the games (final included) were sold out. Couple that with all the technical problems encountered by the ticket-selling application, and you get the picture…

Lastly, Adidas, clearly under direction from FIFA to help increase the goals-per-match average, has unveiled Jabulani as the official match ball. All goalkeepers – without exception – hate it. I’m not sure how much “product placement research” Adidas did with that demographic. It’s been called “beach ball”, “cheap”, and other choice words that don’t have a place in this story. And we have already witnessed some strange goals during some of the recent preparation matches. Still, the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney, and Drogba are likely to be huge fans!




With all that aside, it’s coming! Once the curtain goes up, and the obligatory white doves take to the sky, the spectacle will start, with all its drama, joy, unpredictability, and undoubtedly, controversy. I’m looking forward to every minute of it, and for the good of the game, hope it’s a big success!

This was my first tirade into the biggest sporting event of the year. Stay tuned for a complete – yet highly opinionated – analysis of the teams lining up for the 2010 edition of the World Cup!


Cape Town:



Durban:



Johannesburg:



Mangaung/Bloemfontein:



Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth:




Nelspruit:



Polokwane:



Rustenburg:



Tshwane/Pretoria:


3 comments:

  1. yuhoooooooooo
    go Barcelona.........my favorite

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