Sunday, June 13, 2010

Postings from Pretoria #34

13 June 2010

Hello there... Rodger French here.

World Cup Report #1

Finally… the 2010 FIFA World Cup is underway. This is the first time “The World’s Largest Sporting Event” (by its own admission) has been held on African soil, so this is a VERY BIG DEAL. We have been living with the preparation, the construction, and the hype since we arrived in South Africa some 21 months ago, so it’s a palpable relief to have this clambake actually begin. Finally.

I did not grow up with soccer (as it is known in the USA), so my knowledge of and appreciation for the intricacies of the game are unavoidably lacking. I am nonetheless a big fan of any sporting activity played well and have developed great respect for football (as it is known everywhere but in the USA). And so, in the spirit of international comity, here are a few potentially illuminating, if underinformed, observations to perchance help you through.

Futbol – American football is not football. Australian football is not football. (It’s not even comprehensible.) Only soccer is football, although I prefer “futbol”. Helps avoid confusion.

FIFA – The Fédération Internationale de Football Association is the international governing body of association football, with headquarters in Zürich. FIFA is responsible for the organization and governance of major international tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup, first held in 1930. FIFA is also a soulless sports behemoth that rakes in billions of dollars in profits at the expense of local taxpayers, adversely impacts thousands of local businesses, and gives relatively little back to local communities. Not unlike the IOC, only more evil. And on steroids.

Root for North Korea – Only seven nations have ever won the World Cup - excuse me, the FIFA World Cup - and all of them are either European or South American. Enough. An all-Korean final is theoretically possible and would be wicked cool (official odds: not bloody likely), although, in the interest of requisite patriotic fervor, please note that Team USA is quite good and should go deep into the tourney. That said, I’m pulling for Ghana.

Drama on the Pitch – Since actual scoring occurs infrequently, if at all, any goal is necessarily fraught with emotion and high drama. I, however, am truly enthralled by the Wagnerian tendencies of many players to treat routine rough-and-tumble fouls as opportunities to reenact the death scene from “What’s Opera, Doc?”. Drama queens, indeed; and highly entertaining.

Make Some Noise – Futbol fanz are a noisy lot; some sing, some chant, some play drums. In South Africa, that sound you hear - the sound like a large hive of buzzing bees on steroids? – comes from tens of thousands of vuvuzelas. The vuvuzela is an inexpensive plastic trumpet, allegedly descended from the kudu horn*. Ubiquitous and unavoidable, they are loud enough to cause serious hearing damage. Anne and I will be attending exactly one match (USA vs Algeria) and we have already procured earplugs.

[Sidebar: *I say allegedly because I distinctly remember having one of these things, called a “blaster” if memory serves, when I was in high school.]

The Long View – 32 teams playing 64 matches at 9 stadia in 8 cities over 31 daze… We’re off to a good start and sincerely hope that South Africa can pull this off with as little off-field drama as possible. Keep a good thought sports enthusiasts, and I’ll keep you posted.



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