Leading article: The unification game kicks off

Share
Related Topics

The World Cup – the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet – kicks off today in South Africa. It will do so to the low drone of tens of thousands of vuvuzelas, the metre-long plastic trumpets beloved of South African football fans.

And there will be some who hear a discordant note amid the celebrations. The competition might be the pinnacle of the beautiful game, but one would be hard-pressed to describe Fifa, the World Cup's organiser, as a beautiful organisation. The fears expressed (in private) last month by the former head of the English Football Association, Lord Triesman, about corruption in the governing body ended up costing him his job. But the smell of corruption has been hanging over Fifa for years. And world football's governing body has made precious little effort to disperse it.

The host nation has its troubles too. The progress of the rainbow nation since the end of apartheid in 1994 has been disappointing. Much of South Africa's black population still lives in dire poverty. There are appalling levels of inequality and violent crime.

And the country's political system often seems lost when faced with such vast social and economic problems. The president, Jacob Zuma, is no Nelson Mandela. And if the likes of the demagogic African National Congress youth leader, Julius Malema, have their way in future, South Africa could easily follow Zimbabwe down the road to economic suicide.

Mr Zuma has invited the 52 heads of all of Africa's nations to the opening game of the competition today in Johannesburg. But this does not feel like the moment of African emergence on the world stage that many hoped for when South Africa was announced as the host in 2004. The reality is that South Africa is probably only one of a handful of nations on the continent with the resources to stage the tournament.

Yet it would be wrong to ignore what South Africa has achieved in its preparations for this competition. The government has managed to build the new stadiums, the airports and the rail links (which visitors from around the world will admire over the next month) on time. Major sporting events are often criticised for being a waste of scarce resources. But this World Cup has provided an excuse for a major national building project in a country which desperately needed both the infrastructure and the jobs.

And what this competition means to South Africans should not be underestimated. President Zuma described 2010 as "the most important year in our country since 1994". That might sound like the typical hyperbole of a politician, but many of Mr Zuma's compatriots, especially black South Africans, would agree with him.

Rugby has traditionally been the game of the Afrikaner community. This is why it was such a healing moment for the country when, in 1995, the new president, Nelson Mandela, handed the Rugby World Cup trophy to the victorious white South African captain, Francois Pienaar. But football is the game of the black townships. If this World Cup can capture just a fraction of the racially unifying spirit of its rugby equivalent 15 years ago, it will surely be worth all the expenditure.

And football, for all the many deficiencies of its international powerbrokers, is still a unique international sporting bridge. From the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, to the pubs of England, to the slums of Lagos, to the bars of Tokyo, football – and this competition – will be the focus of a worldwide conversation during the next four weeks. As the global village expands, so does the power of the World Cup. As English fans know all too well, football does not always live up to its potential. But it always provides hope. And that is reason enough to blow a vuvuzela today.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London