A Global Celebration of Countries and Cultures through Sport

Text and photos by Vivienne Mackie

As the final game draws close (at time of writing we don’t know the winner, but it will be a European team), it’s a good time to ponder on this tournament, what it means and what it has achieved.

South Africa is hosting the world at this important event; important because it’s a time to bring so many peoples together, important because it’s the first time the World Cup has been held in Africa, important because it’s a chance to showcase South Africa and for the country to show the rest of the world what it is and what it can do.

Whether in South Africa or just watching elsewhere in the world, for people the World Cup is a unifying force, each game a time when people in so many different places are focused on the same thing, rooting for one of the teams, whether it’s their team or not.

The FIFA World Cup is an international competition for the national teams of the members of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The championship has been played every four years since the first tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 because of World War 2. It is the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world, with an estimated 715 million people watching the 2006 final in Germany. In 1930, 13 teams took part in the tournament. It expanded to 24 teams in 1982 and then to 32 teams in 1998, allowing more countries to take part. A record 204 teams entered qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

The build-up for the World Cup in South Africa was wonderful to see and experience. There was an energy, a vibrancy, an expectancy, in the air. All the local airline staff have a new uniform, as do people in many work places. They wear the South Africa colors daily—the yellow shirt with green trimming and letters and the scarves in South African colors. Airports are extremely busy with locals and visitors arriving and moving around, and signs and symbols of the World Cup are everywhere.

This year, the World Cup Mascot is ZAKUMI. Zakumi is a fluffy young leopard with green dreadlocks and a wide smile. As a symbol of South Africa and the rest of the African continent, he’s energetic, enthusiastic, sociable, self-confident and ambitious, and he loves football. The name “Zakumi” comes from the letters “ZA” (South Africa’s international country code) and “kumi”, a ki-Swahili word that means “ten”.

The Addidas World Cup Ball is called “JABULANI”, which means “bringing joy to everyone”. This is the 11th Addidas World Cup ball, and there are 11 colors used on the ball. These 11 colors represent the 11 players in every team, the 11 official languages of South Africa and the 11 South African communities that make the country one of the most ethnologically diverse countries on the African continent, hence its nickname, the “Rainbow Nation”.

The VUVUZELA is the noise-making trumpet of South African football fans, and has quickly become famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) around the world. They are plastic, brightly-colored, about a meter long, and sound like an elephant if heard up close, while in a large crowd they sound more like a huge swarm of angry bees. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors and there is a vuvuzela for each of the teams in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. (See here for more on vuvuzelas, http://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/vuvuzela-mania-continues/ ).

The MAKARAPA is another part of the South African World Cup regalia. It is a modified, decorated miner’s helmet that is unique to South African football/soccer fans. A supporter will spend hours decorating his or her headgear with the logo and colors of his/her team and images of a favorite player, and may top it off with giant sunglasses. This year, many work places sponsored a Makarapa competition and even folk not normally soccer fans got into the spirit.

We were in South Africa just before the official opening of the World Cup and then in France, Wales, London, and Scotland and it was fun to see the spirit and attitude in each place—all football mad. Banners and flags decorate buildings and advertising for the World Cup is ubiquitous—we see the South African flag, the FIFA logo, Zakumi, and vuvuzelas in shop windows, on public buildings, on coke or beer bottles, on toys. Cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and city parks set up big screen TVs, and always crowds gather. Throngs gathered in the UK even after their team was eliminated, as people still love the game and start cheering for another team. People talk to strangers and discuss the team and country. Even people, like me, who are not normally big football fans, get involved and interested.

After being eliminated early in the tournament, the South Africa spirit didn’t disappear; it just changed to one of “It Does Not Matter”. Soon after Bafana Bafana, the South African team, was eliminated there was a widespread media campaign, which spread this message: “It does not matter that we did not win. Our team inspired us and gave us hope. What started as a game is becoming something more. What matters is what we are creating—jobs, skills, infrastructure. So, open our hearts to each other and to the world. Choose another country to support, paint your face for that team, help a tourist.”

It’s been an exciting and interesting World Cup and one wonders how the world will analyze it later. How has South Africa succeeded as a host? In spite of criticism about the cost of hosting the FIFA World Cup, when so many ordinary South Africa folk need so much, we can say many good things about the experience and what South Africa has given and gained.

Yes, there have been some bumps in the road, and yes the crime rate in South Africa is something to be considered; there have been some unfortunate incidents of robbery, mugging, and break-ins. And yet, the authorities have tried really hard to contain and control this and have employed 40,000 extra police and security guards. Whether crime becomes a major issue after these extras are no longer employed remains to be seen.

Most of the analyses so far are fairly positive, as this World Cup is promoting better global understanding and more interest in other countries and their issues. Not only is South Africa showing off its varied and multifaceted culture, but it is also using this as an opportunity to educate the country on all the other countries and their cultures. As one commentator, Shari Cohen in the Huffington Post, put it, “South Africa has “rolled out the Ubuntu.” Ubuntu is a traditional African philosophy that says no man is an island, that being human is to be inter-connected, that we all have an effect on each other. In this spirit, the South Africans of all races have been friendly and hospitable, welcoming to all the strangers (who won’t feel like strangers for long), and are genuinely interested in their countries and cultures.

It’s truly been a global celebration.