The smiles tell the story

2009-06-20 00:00

A FEW exceptionally clever journalists and a few more genetically negative observers confidently predicted the Fifa Confederations Cup would not be a success. They were right.

With eight of 16 matches played, the tournament has not been a success. No, it has been much more fun, much more vibrant, much more compelling and much more entertaining than that. In fact, in reality, beyond any reasonable argument, the event is unfolding as a truly outstanding success.

You have doubts?

Ask the local supporters who have filled the stadiums with a kind of passion, noise and excitement unknown in any previous edition of this still evolving Fifa event. Where the Germans sat impassively four years ago, South Africans have danced, sung, celebrated and relentlessly blown their vuvuzelas.

In truth, the noise has been too much for some: a Dutch reporter complained to Sepp Blatter that the plastic horns were annoying TV viewers back in Holland, quite apart from deafening the doyens in the media seats; the Fifa president deftly replied Africa is a noisy place and local customs should be respected. Even so, the vuvuzela may yet be banned in 2010, not least because it can be deployed as a lethal weapon.

Still have doubts?

Ask the U.S.A. team official Tom King, who has described the general organisation and facilities as among the best his squad have experienced at any major tournament.

Ask Kaka, the celebrated Brazilian superstar, who said this week: “This is exactly the tournament in Africa we were longing for and we were expecting. It’s great to see the passion people here have for the game and how they celebrate and enjoy us being here. I’m sure the World Cup next year will be even better.”

Any doubts?

Ask Tshepo Mokoena, a nine-year-old boy from a broken home in Elkah, Soweto. Chosen as one of the official team escorts for the match between Italy and Egypt at Ellis Park, he waits in the players’ tunnel, physically shaking with excitement, eyes alive with unbridled anticipation as he prepares to walk out on to the field hand-in-hand with the one and only Fabio Cannavaro, the man who lifted the Fifa World Cup in 2006.

Ask Jose Gonzales, an overweight builder from Bilbao who has travelled to support La Furia Roja (red fury); he and his friends sat among a group of local supporters during Spain’s 5-0 romp over New Zealand in Rustenburg and spent the entire evening laughing, dancing and blowing their own vuvuzelas.

Any more doubts?

Ask Lebo Mokonyama, a 14-year-old from Mamelodi who walked to Loftus Versfeld on Thursday just because he wanted to be near the place where the real Brazilians (not Sundowns, his team, nicknamed The Brazilians) were to play against the U.S.A. He had no money, no ticket and no prospect of seeing the match — until a man in a suit appeared out of the blue and handed him a spare comp. The magnificent unbridled smile that broke across his young face instantly captured the emotional core of this event and next year’s World Cup — the world’s greatest footballers playing in Africa, embracing Africa, endorsing Africa, inspiring Africans.

Ask any of the black and white — and every imaginable shade in between — South Africans who filled the east stand at Loftus for the Italy-U.S.A. game last Monday night, at ease, relaxed, enjoying themselves, unwittingly representing perhaps the first truly mixed crowd at a major sporting event in this country.

Is this the country where a typical weekend at a major stadium featured a Currie Cup rugby match watched by 60 000 whites on the Saturday and a PSL soccer match watched by 60 000 blacks on the Sunday, and where, at work on the Monday morning, the whites would discuss the rugby without even knowing the soccer match had taken place and the blacks would be oblivious to the rugby? Is it possible that world class football, presented by Fifa, appealing equally to black soccer fans and whites who follow the game in Europe really does become the spectacle that brings South Africans together? It seems so.

Sure, some issues need to be addressed, but can the Confederations Cup so far be declared an outstanding success?

Yes. No doubts.

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