FIFA stakes 18-carat gold cup in South Africa soccer sun splash

By  | 9 June 2010 at 01:49 | 2393 views

Bad News: it is priceless, even invaluable, despite being all 18-carat solid gold. Yet it cannot really be sold physically. The good news is that it can buy a nation much more in diverse ways; only her soccer gladiators would have to prove to the whole world that she deserves it. Talking about the FIFA World Cup at stake as 32 countries go for glory in South Africa. The battles begin on Friday 11th June 2010, in The Republic of South Africa.

A truly global affair is just about to unfold, probably underway as you read. It is the FIFA World Cup 2010, the first to be ever held in Africa, in The Republic of South Africa, to be precise. It will be the 19th edition of the world famous games that has been held every four years, in different countries, since 1930. Only World War 2 interrupted this cycle, in 1942 and 1946. It is all about the game of football, which pitches two teams of 11 players each. However, the current trend in international media is to call it soccer, to differentiate it from a variation of rugby – also called ‘football’ in Canada and the USA.

This year features five other African soccer giants, along with hosts South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s ‘rainbow nation’ – Algeria, Cameroun, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. The symbolic crown is the FIFA Cup, an 18-carat-gold trophy. FIFA the founding/organizing body based in Switzerland stands for the Federation Internationale de Football Associations. The previous trophy, the Jules Rimet Cup, was retired by Brazil after they won it three times (1958, 1962 and 1970).

As ever, eclectic crowds are expected on the stands/terraces of stadiums all over South Africa. Indeed all over the world, there will also be anxious football fans facing screens in homes, cafes/bars and any place that can hold a TV, computer or hi-tech phone. Many people are looking forward to the FIFA/SAFA pot pourri (Wan Pot, in Sierra Leone lingo), displayed in a calabash.

Talk about: skills and spirit, jersey couture and celebratory gigs by players; tourist money and marvel; travel/sightseeing and new friendships and business bonds. Some would recall the diverse modes of goal-celebrations on the pitch. Brazilian Ronaldo’s finger wagging, Russia’s (Corner Flag) rocking cradle as they trounced Cameroun in 1994 in the USA; the latter’s Samba dance in earlier triumphs, you name it. Romania‘s red headed outing at France ’98 is another highlight to remember. They are probably still washing off the hair dye. as they miss out at South Africa 2010. Referees may be on the look out for dives (faked injuries), yellow card at the ready. Thanks to modern media a record number of viewers is widely anticipated at the different stadiums and on screens all over the world. As expected there have also been skeptics and detractors, not liking the venue South Africa.

I write to differ that no African country is fit or safe enough to host the FIFA World Cup anytime now. Why not? I don’t beg for an answer but instead did some research to bring you some upbeat perspective. First, travel overseas is a risk in so many ways, from start to return home. Equally no one can deny that the organizers need to be in top gear in terms of security and vigilance. Sport fans and workers also need to be alert while they are in South Africa; citizens and visitors alike.

Now how about these flashes of history; just to show that accidents and bad things have happened around similar events. For my purpose here; that those involved and concerned had actually rallied to correct mistakes and sometimes even capitalized. Call it optimists making the best out of very bad/sad situations.

Around this time in 1958, Manchester United FC of England came back to win the European Cup, shortly after nearly a whole planeload of their players died in a crash. Zambia almost won the 1994 Cup of African Nations, some months after their first team players died in a plane crash. They lost to Nigeria in the finals. Talk about Nigeria, reminds me of Sam Okwaraji, the Nigerian national team player who died after he collapsed on the pitch. It was during a contest with Angola.

Liverpool were banned from continental Europe for six years, after many fans died at a stadium in Belgium, in 1985. All other English clubs were banned for five years. Alcohol was henceforth prohibited on the stands since the deaths were a result of a drunken brawl between fans of Liverpool and Juventus. The match went on, in spite of the disaster, with the Italians taking the title.

There are natural disasters to contend with too. Mexico had an earth quake just before they hosted the World Cup in 1986. The Mexicans stepped in after Columbia opted out, citing cash constraints, to play hosts.

FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Associations) is based in Zurich, Switzerland and Sepp Blatter heads it as president. The first World Cup was held in Uruguay, with the Jules Rimet trophy at stake. It was named after the first president of the global federation Jules Rimet. The tradition is any country that wins the cup for a third time retires it takes it home for keeps. Brazil did just that in 1970 in Mexico. In the 1974 edition - in then West Germany - a new trophy called the FIFA Cup was introduced. Argentina (1978, 1986), Brazil (1994, 2002), Italy (1982, 2006) have each won it twice and all three will be going for the kill in South Africa.

As we settle down to watch the spectacle, here are some tidbits that fans need to reckon with. It is hand to ball, not arm. So don’t fret or fuss if the referee ignores some ‘Handballs’. Actually a player has to be seen by the Chief Judge on the pitch, to have ‘handled’ the ball, to his/her advantage. If the Referee seems all-powerful, take this. There was a time when he/she could send off a player for not being “properly dressed.” It was in reaction to the universal AIDS scare. Add to that, only the team captain can protest to the referee or his/her two assistants. No swearing, even in a language foreign to the officials.

The goalkeeper has to stay on the goal line, under the crossbar, during a penalty shot. If he/she moves before the opponent (penalty shooter) actually kicks the ball, the referee can have the whole process redone. If there is a draw at full time (a ‘Tie’ in North American parlance), any team that scores first, in extra time, wins. It is called ‘Sudden Death.’

Maradona is looking to equal a rare record set by (West) Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer. The latter is the first to win the World Cup as both player (1974) and then as (unified) Germany national coach (1990). Diego Armando Maradona has pledged to walk naked in his home country if and after his Argentine squad wins. Well, with Lionel Messi and Co., anything can happen.

Keep in touch; The Patriotic Vanguard will keep you posted on behind the scenes tidbits as the festival continues. For now, sit back and let the rainbow glow.