Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Theatre

So my book didn't make it out in time for the Vancouver Winter Olympics. But it has appeared in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which--despite David Beckham's torn achilles--hopefully still makes chapter three somewhat topical. (Should you feel so inclined, you can order it here.)

With the eight groups' opening matches now concluded, there has already been plenty of drama on and off the field, starting with last Thursday's Kick-Off Celebration Concert--and its tragic aftermath. To this end, the image of a clearly ecstatic Bishop Desmond Tutu dancing a jig and doing his best Shakira impression was quickly replaced the next day by a near-silent Orlando Stadium acknowledging, via his absence, the death of Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter in a car accident on the way home from the previous night's festivities. A synecdoche--much like the entire World Cup event--for both the promise and possibilities and the stark realities governing the new South Africa.

This theme carried through to the host nation's beloved Bafana Bafana's opening match against Mexico. When South African striker Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the first goal of the entire 2010 World Cup, thousands of vuvuzelas erupted in a collective cry of jubilation that was truly ear-splitting, even as heard over the Internet. But that jubilation was eventually tempered by Rafael Marquez's equalizing goal late in the match. And now that Bafana Bafana has just lost its second Group A match to Uruguay 3-0, they will need a miracle even greater than the country's victory at the 1995 Rugby World Cup (a much better-funded, predominately white sport in South Africa) to move on to the next round.

Nevertheless, this hasn't diminished one iota the clarion call--nor, indeed, the decibel level--of all those vuvuzelas. Much to the dismay of the foreign fans, broadcasters, and especially players, who have complained repeatedly to FIFA officials about the distraction caused by the noise. Almost as much as they've complained about the Jubulani balls being used in the matches (too light). And the weather (too cold). A little less complaining on the part of most teams and a bit more concentration on improving the quality of their play would seem to be in order as far as I'm concerned. Apart from the Dutch and the Germans, one would think most of the higher ranked teams expected to contend for the title are in a rush to head home early. Spain was upset yesterday by Switzerland. Brazil could only eke out a 1-0 victory over the lowly North Koreans. The aging Abruzzi, and their 2006 rivals, France, could only manage draws in their opening matches--prompting, in the latter case, a severe tongue-lashing from Zinedine Zidane, likely still smarting from the ignominious end to his World Cup career four years ago. (Of course, France is lucky to be here at all given Thierry Henry's notorious hand violation against Ireland earlier this year in World Cup qualifying).

And speaking of ignominy, can you imagine being England's goalkeeper right now? After the fumble by Robert Green that cost his team an outright victory against the US, he became an instant pariah in the UK's notoriously vicious tabloid media. Talk about pressure for the rest of their Group C matches.

But as Globe and Mail television critic--and avid football fan--John Doyle has recently commented, responding to the plethora of complaints about the organization and opening week of play at this year's World Cup, such uncertainty is precisely what makes the event so exciting. As he puts it, employing a telling theatrical metaphor, "The World Cup lasts for a month, a real four-act drama that shocks, surprises, disappoints and exhilarates. It's not a movie. South Africa isn't a theme park."

So, unlike with the Springboks in 95, there's likely to be no Hollywood ending for Bafana Bafana (and thus no Oscar-nominated movie starring Morgan Freeman). And, as much as I'd like to see it, it's likely going to be hard for any team from Africa to win (though Ghana is looking strong). The continent's most popular player, Didier Drogba, has been cleared to play (despite the fact that his right arm is still in a cast), with his late game substitution against Portugal eliciting yet more vuvuzelean blasts. But neither he nor rival striker Cristiano Ronaldo (featured together baring their six-packs on the June cover of Vanity Fair, included above) could manage a goal in the 0-0 draw, and it's going to be a tough slog for either team to get past Brazil in the so-called "Group of Death."

And if not Africa, then why not South America? A triumph for the Global South would definitely be preferable to another same-old, same-old victory for Europe. (Not, to be sure, to discount either South Korea or Japan--both looking strong--who no doubt have some unfinished business to settle from 2002.) Argentina may have had a somewhat slow start (a tough 1-0 victory against Nigeria and its nearly impenetrable goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama), but they do have Lionel Messi on the pitch. And Diego Maradona on the sidelines. Watching Maradona alone is great theatre.

Which is why I love the World Cup.


1 comment:

Frank said...

I think that so far, the best of the World Cup is the Argentine team, and the worst the vuvuzelas!
I´m enjoying all the games in my apartment for rent Buenos Aires with friends!