Football can be a source of passion for many and irritation for others, especially I suspect, a lot of women who have to play second fiddle to the sport. Considering it occupies around 9 months of the year if we consider the national leagues or in the year the World cup comes around add another month to the equation. Imagine, the best part of a year taking a back seat as the guys bond over the numerous all important matches, 10 months of enduring football chants and mood swings dictated by egotistical overpaid football players' performances. It can't be easy on the average girlfriend or wife. A few years ago I decided that if you can't beat them you may as well join them so I got into the beautiful game and surprisingly loved it!
I recognise that supporting a particular team can be something of an emotional rollercoaster - fortunately my team of choice is Manchester United so I rarely have cause to cringe with embarassement or despair at their performance, what with them being the greatest team in the English Premier League and all.... I would say in the world but that may be a stretch because of those darn Catalans.
So this year it's a football fest all year round, first the Champions League, then the Premier League which we lost...only just, and now the World Cup. Although I haven't watched many of the matches, I know where my allegiance lies - Africa. Whether it's Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa or the mighty Black Stars, Ghana who are taking it to the Quarter Finals on behalf of the continent, I am an African through and through....first and foremost. Then comes my adopted country - England, provided ofcourse they aren't facing an African team.
This World Cup has been so politicised that my convictions have become even stronger. Every pre-World Cup documentary in the British and some European media was about the poverty in SA or the level of crime or how the money could have been better spent. I confess that there are many issues that South Africa needs to address and is addressing and perhaps many more than most former host countries of the World Cup but we cannot pretend that those countries who sit back and throw stones, don't live in their own fragile glass houses. For instance, the budget for the 2012 Olympics in London will probably exceed the projected £9.3billion, yet there are homeless people on the streets of London. There are council estates in London which are so run down or ridden with crime that they have become no-go areas for non-residents. There are old British people who have to make a choice between food and heating as their pensions and living allowances do not afford them both 'luxuries',we have become so deeply indebted that public spending is being cut at an alarmind rate and as though all that wasn't enough there are still children who leave school barely able to read and write destined for a 'career' on the dole (unemployed). All this in a so-called developed economy. So the question should be whether any country perhaps other than Brunei is justified in spending millions of dollars or pounds on sporting events? Why single out South Africa?
The repeated stories calling into question South Africa's capability of holding such a high profile event reflect a racist attitude on the part of the Western media. Likewise there is a deeply inbedded sense of inferiority on the part of some Africans, who like the media, give credence to the 'dark continent' narrative, telling whoever will listen that nothing good can or should ever come out of Africa. While this is irritating though hardly suprising coming from our former colonial masters, it is disturbing and disheartening when it comes from Africans themselves. Why are we as Africans unworthy of hosting an event like the World Cup? Why raise the question of where money should be prioritised when almost every nation is guilty of throwing good money after bad knowing full well that there are always more pressing needs. Surely the World Cup is a positive event that will have both a positive impact on the country's economy whether in terms of the number of jobs it has created or the countless legacy programmes that have come about because of the World Cup. Are we expected to keep on apologising for our struggling economies, which we alone as Africans cannot be deemed responsible for? Why does it bother so many to see something good come out of the continent?
As Africans living both in the continent and the Diaspora, I would argue that even with the lack of opportunities and resources, and all the odds stacked against us, we still seem to succeed and often excel. Yet if the countless documentaries that were churned out in time for the World Cup are anything to go by, this still comes as a surprise to many Europeans. An African Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby on the BBC had him repeatedly aghast at how resourceful or hardworking Africans can be...or that there are African economies which would be of interest to foreign investors. Likewise in the hugely debated Welcome to Lagos, the narrator, David Harewood (who is British of Caribbean origin) seemed taken aback that residents of deprived areas in the city were able to make a life out of so little. All of this led me to wonder how it is that in the 21st century people know so little of our beautiful continent or its people. They all seem to buy into the usual downtrodden needy malnourished African to be pitied. Yet the story for the majority of Africans is no different to that of ordinary Europeans who work hard and have aspirations for themselves and their children.
Back to football where the same attitude is prevalent; once again many ignore the fact that some of the greatest players in leagues all over the world are African and assume that African teams are only in the running as formality. Their failure would appear to be a fait accompli according to the football pundits. That some of the African teams have not performed well has little to do with the players' individual abilities and more to do with the fact that they rarely play as a team and therefore lack the cohesion and discipline which other teams have. The African Cup of Nations is missed by many because of players' commitments to their clubs who after all pay them a salary unlike a team like England who all play on home soil and therefore have ample opportunities to practice as a national team. Inspite of all but one of the African teams in the World Cup not making it past the group stages, we still have much to be proud of. If money were anything to go by France, Italy, Denmark and England would be wiping the floor clean with teams from less developed nations, yet the first three teams were sent home before the knockout stages and England fell pitifully at the first crucial hurdle. South Africa was able to beat France and Ghana sent the Americans home with amazing precision. I cannot fathom how as Africans we can fail to feel proud given that some of the Ghanain players are not even signed to major football clubs nor does their team have a fraction of the USA team's budget. Even though many African football players are now signed to international clubs with access to the best facilities, they all started with nothing but their pure raw talent.....cultivated on home soil.
In my humble opinion, there is so much to be proud of, whether it's South Africa's amazing efforts in hosting this event, or the Black Stars and their superb game. It is worth recognising these efforts and asking ourselves that if things were different, how far could African teams go....? Personally I am reminded in watching this World Cup that our continent's future is bright and that Africans will continue to influence and impress the rest of the World.
For now we will continue to sound our vuvuzelas in resounding support of our heroes the Black Stars!