Once again, it is the culmination of that four-yearly interval when soccer, nay, sports lovers around the world gear up for a memorable month of football. South Africans can attest to the fact that FIFA World Cup, which we hosted in 2010 as the first African country to do so, offers a plethora of inherent advantages that goes with hosting the global spectacle.
From culture, sport, politics and indeed economics, a host nation is neatly placed on the world’s shop window to showcase the best it can offer. Hospitality, scenery, vegetation and indeed ordinary people form part of a basket of services on offer for millions of visitors to the country, many first time visitors, thanks to the sport. No wonder our beloved founding father of democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who was a key figure in helping us secure the right to host the 2010 spectacle after one Charles Dempsey played truant and denied us a chance to host in 2006 – a chance which went to Germany, noted that “sport brings people together”.
This week, Russia play host to the 32 national teams which will be competing for the highly esteemed trophy. The first game kick off between Russia as a host nation and they play a relatively easy opening game against Saudi Arabia. But then, only a fool will believe that there are some easy games in the tournament, for there are none.
So far the attempted narrative, largely by a few but loud Western countries to instill fear and create doubt in the ability of Russia to play a worthy host of the world cup has failed dismally.
In fact, in the run-up to the 2010 world cup on our shores there was a concerted effort to project South Africa as being incapable of hosting the event. Doom-sayers called as the crime capital of world! Yet we left critics and doubting Thomases dumb-founded following our sterling performance, even if we say so ourselves. We taught the world about Ubuntu/Botho, our unique sense of humanity, and exposed them to the Vuvuzela.
In Russia, the Kremlin has faced similar whispers of doubts in their capabilities, and credit to FIFA that the world soccer body is seldom swayed by politicians.
Now, as the world converge in a country doing everything in its power to expose its unknown Russian treasures to the world, very few are talking about safety fears for the fans. This is more so after over a dozen countries dispatched their own specialized police personnel to Russia to beef up the host country’s security. Not only will these acts of wisdom increase police visibility around Russia, but it will ensure that any potential language or cultural barrier is dealt with instantly. Sepp Blatter, the long-serving FIFA president who was ousted a few years with the help of the FBI investigation into corruption in FIFA, deserves eternal praise for spreading football to all corners of the globe.
Traditionally, Europe dominated the hosting rights of the games, until arguments to the effect that if indeed football is a global game, the world cup must be held far and wide to reflect just that.
For once, I believe, through the world cup the international community find time to cast aside divisive politics and join hands together through the power of the beautiful game. For the host nation, which has been under European-Union-led economic sanctions over the past few years, this is an opportunity to show the world all that is good and beautiful about Russia and its hospitable people.
The culture, food, traditions, social life, the ordinary people – all this is time to put on show for the international community to see for itself- at first hand instead of the usual propaganda– what a beautiful country Russia and its people are.
FIFA World Cup invariably brings people of different backgrounds, and diverse nations, together in harmony. Let the games begin!