In the last week, I have had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to watch the TV coverage of some of the teams landing at the airport, and arriving for the World Cup. On every occasion, this game me goosebumps. It is often incredibly difficult to believe that the Soccer World Cup has arrived in South Africa. I am an ardent sports fan, and follow our national teams with pride (even though they, especially the cricket team, can leave you a bit depressed at times!). This World Cup though represents far more than just football tournament.
My earliest memory of the World Cup was the 1986 one in Mexico. South Africa, at that point was still under apartheid rule. This meant that our sports players could not participate globally. This was also the case for soccer, which was already multiracial at that point, unlike rugby and cricket. Furthermore, it meant that we did not even get television or local radio coverage of the tournament. This left me searching for the best frequency to catch BBC on Shortwave radio – no internet in those days!. I can remember tuning in to the England and Argentina game, and listening to the commentary on Maradona’s second goal. I tuned in a bit late so I missed the “hand of god” first goal. I can remember sitting with a bunch of family members to listen to the final between Argentina and Germany. This was the closest we got to the World Cup.
The 1990’s brought change to South Africa. It was peaceful, thankfully due to great leaders like Nelson Mandela. We hosted and won the Rugby World Cup. We hosted and won the Africa Cup of Nations. We made our debut at the Soccer World Cup in 1998. The football got beamed to our homes.
And now the World Cup is on our doorsteps. It is incredible. This goes beyond just a football game or tournament. For other countries like the United Kingdom or Germany, they might be accustomed to this. Their focus might be on how well the football team does. For us, it goes beyond that. We want our team to give it their all, or as the coach regularly states “to make us proud”. But, running a successful World Cup, instilling pride in being South African, uniting a nation with still many problems is what this World Cup is for me. This opportunity will most likely never happen again in my life time, and it is truly something amazing.
For those of you perhaps reading this from other countries, whether it be soccer mad like Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Italy or not the soccer mad like United States, share this incredible experience with us. Come enjoy the warmth of South Africa, virtually or physically, and help to make our country great.