R. Rose
July 13, 2010
World Cup and Carnival: Brief reflections

Every four years, we in St. Vincent and the Grenadines share our loyalties and balance our time between FIFA’s World Cup of football and our own Carnival activities, not bad for entertainment choices one would say. Both are now over, and our congratulations go out to the respective winners.{{more}} We can perhaps seize the opportunity to look beyond the winners’ tables to reflect on issues which have emerged.

In this light, our congratulations must go out to a big winner, not of the World Cup, Golden Boot or any individual Carnival award, but to the nation and people of South Africa, successful hosts of the 2010 World Cup. True, the South African team did not do well in the Cup, failing to reach the second stage, as did all but one African nation, Ghana, but surely no accolades could be more richly deserved. The high praises heaped on that host nation must go a long way to compensate for the disappointment of not being able to cheer on the South African team to perhaps a final 16 or quarter final place.

If truth be told, in footballing terms, despite the obvious talent of individual African players, it was perhaps over-optimistic to expect that any of the African teams on show would lift the coveted trophy on July 11. At least three of the top contenders, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and South Africa itself, changed coaches virtually on the eve of the competition, hardly a recipe for success. These coaches hardly knew or had opportunity to be familiar, not just with the players, but with the socio-cultural context, traditions and expectations of the nations that they were supposed to lead into glory.

While African football has churned out a string of top-notch players, on par with any in the world, the state of African football itself, at the organisational, administrative and base level, is far from inspiring. Many former players and media personnel have identified mal-administration and corruption as being major problems. Not surprisingly, the West African country of Nigeria, a powerhouse in Africa, but with a bad international reputation, has been singled out, with hints of possible match-fixing. Fortunately for African football, these have been debunked by FIFA President Joseph Blatter. But the Nigerian FA’s decision to give a European coach a million dollar coaching contract, as did Ivory Coast, while not investing similar sums in developing the game locally, has provoked wide criticism. Predictably, both these coaches resigned immediately after the failure of the respective teams and are now seeking further lucrative contracts in Europe.

On the positive side though, World Cup 2010 was a significant achievement for South Africa and the African continent as a whole, not just in footballing terms. The successful hosting of such a major event silenced the many doubters who had questioned South Africa’s ability to overcome the huge challenges it had undertaken. At the end of it, the legendary African hospitality and the level of organisation overcame the worries about crime, security and transport difficulties. Even the attendance figures indicated that only two previous tournaments, USA 1994 and Germany 2006, had shown higher attendances. The rave reviews in the international media represent a huge victory for Africa which has demonstrated that it can overcome challenges of underdevelopment and the legacies of colonialism and apartheid rule to demonstrate that it too can stand up and be counted.

Further afield, South Africa’s success has wider international implications. South Africa belongs to a group of what is referred to as “emerging nations”. This group of formerly colonised nations, including India, China and Brazil, are providing alternatives to the traditional dominance of the western nations, the once all-powerful “G7”. With Russia having forced itself into this elite group, making it the “G8”, these emerging nations have now shifted the focus to “G20”. The World Cup 2010 has demonstrated the capacity of these nations, a fact that is sure to be reinforced when Brazil hosts the 2014 version, the baton being handed from one emerging nation to another.

Now that the World Cup is over, the question will be asked, “what now Africa?” The big challenge is to utilize the tremendous opportunities provided by hosting the competition to fuel socio-economic, cultural and social development. South Africa’s success has helped to change the image of Africa internationally and to reinforce President Obama’s historic optimism of “Yes, we can”. Deeds must now match words. African football must now be put on a more secure footing, its tremendous potential in tourism developed and its determination to stamp out corruption, reinforced. Above all, it is an opportunity to reverse its role as simply a victim of rape and plunder by external forces, whether it is in the form of its rich natural resources, or in the form of the continent being used as a breeding-ground for the rapacious capitalism as represented by European club football.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.