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Aug 11, 2006

South Africans are going to make the soccer World Cup shine

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We have watched the soccer World Cup come and go and I, certainly, enjoyed watching the games. I watched a semifinal in Cape Town and have fond memories of that, and then I watched the final in Pretoria, which really had one on the edge of the seat, or barstool, depending on where you were.

Some local folks are doubting that South Africa has the ability to stage the 2010 event to world standards. That attitude is enough to make me want to head-butt some people. I have no doubt that South Africa is perfectly equipped to organise a fantastic World Cup. I have been involved in many events of different types, organi-sed by South Africans, and we are always of world quality, often actually beating the rest.

Danny Jordaan, head of the organising committee, is telling everyone, including Parliament, to relax, that everything will be just fine. I agree with him totally. There is only one real danger, and that is potential in-fighting between the organising and decision-making factions, which could lead to bureaucracy acting like an anchor on project planning. In those waters, Jordaan has to be the pilot.

As we have seen, soccer is so popular that the estimate is that the World Cup will bring some 350 000 foreign visitors to our shores.

Many of these, no doubt, will come again in later years and also tell their friends, so the ripple effect should earn us income for years. Soccer fever will grip the country, as happened in Germany. Soccer was not always liked by all. A British newspaper, The Cambrian, reported on March 24, 1893, that a Michael Craven, lecturing on the subject ‘Football weighed and measured’, told his audience: “Football is the fascination of the devil and twin sister of the drinking system and, without the latter, it would have a job to succeed.” The newspaper reported that there were frequent interruptions from the audience.

Meantime, our soccer team has to get in shape. I was in England in 1977 when Thomas Haycock, the goalie for a Yorkshire soccer team, got sacked. The team had not won one game in the season and poor Tom had let through 107 goals in the last three games. The fact that he weighed 140 kg did not help. At his final game, Tom complained: “We were only losing 17-0 at half time. They give up too easily.” The World Cup is much more than just soccer because all sorts of other activities will get in on the act, which is great. No doubt, all sorts of national and world records will be broken and created. Maybe someone will braai a giraffe again. South Africa still holds the unofficial world record for the longest rebound of a golf ball off the caddie’s head. In 1913, Edward Sladward, playing at the Premier mine course, hit a shot that struck his caddie on the head and rebounded a full 75 yards. Maybe Ed was a miner or accountant from head office who did not play too often.

Maybe local folks can think up some really good world records, like biltong eating, crocodile throwing, or rhino wrestling – the list is endless. Again in 1977, when I was in the UK, Edward Simpkins, of the Isle of Wight, set the world record for putting ferrets in his trousers. He kept one ferret in his pants for four hours as he played darts. The previous record had been a mere 90 minutes. He then went on to really impress the crowd by adding a second ferret for a further 70 minutes. During the performance, he sustained two large bites but, undeterred, he finished his games of darts. I am sure that South Africans can better this.

The organising of the World Cup is already under way, and government has earmarked some R5-billion for the building and renovation of ten stadiums. There is a further R8,7-billion for upgrades to airports, roads and railway lines. All of this will create jobs and will, generally, give a positive impulse to the economy. Then there is all the procedural organising, the ‘systems element’, which we will do well and with great style. In 1904, the Paris Olympics was notable for its systems confusion. The one-mile race was won by Hungarian Rudolf Bauer but, as he stepped onto the rostrum to receive his medal, the band broke into the American national anthem as officials raised the Russian flag. Realising the error, they stopped to swop, waited for a while to find a Hungarian flag and then, as they raised the correct flag, the band broke into Rule Britannica.

Then there are the sports commentators. On October 30, 1974, at the famous Mohammed Ali versus George Foreman world boxing bout called The Rumble in the Jungle, in the eighth round, BBC commentator Harry Carpenter said: “That’s it. There’s no way Ali can win this one now!”, at which point Ali knocked Foreman out. That was a bad prediction, but, as far as bad taste is concerned, in 1975, US TV commentator Dick Schaap said that two racehorses, Secretariat and Riva Ridge, were “the most famous pair of stable mates since Joseph and Mary”.

After the switchboard of WNBC-TV was jammed, Schaap had to apologise on TV.

I have great faith in us, South Africans; we are going to make that World Cup shine.
Edited by: Kelvin Kemm

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