World Cup: Africa's reasons to celebrate
Updated on 05 June 2010
Football author Steve Bloomfield writes for Channel 4 News that the World Cup in South Africa has the potential potential to chip away at the old, overwhelmingly negative images of what Africa is about.
Most people remember the rugby match. Nelson Mandela, a year after his election, wearing the Springbok jersey – the once-hated symbol of the old Apartheid regime – striding out onto Johannesburg's Ellis Park pitch while tens of thousands of Afrikaners chanted his name.
It was the birth of the Rainbow Nation, we were told. The moment the new South Africa was born.
But one year later, in 1996, there was another match that meant far more to most South Africans. A football match.
South Africa hosted the Africa Cup of Nations, their first tournament since the end of Apartheid. They reached the final, played at Soccer City in the heart of Soweto, and again Mandela was there wearing the team colours watching his side beat Tunisia 2-0 to become the champions of Africa.
Football has always been the biggest sport in South Africa, just as it is in almost every other country across the continent. And football can tell us a great deal about a country, whether it is the top English clubs with their mountains of debt or the Kenyan football association with its corruption and scandals.
The World Cup, which kicks off at the gloriously rebuilt Soccer City a week today, will be a chance for South Africa to tell the world the sort of country it has become and what it hopes to be.
As passionate as Africans are about football, those who run the beautiful game have tended to ignore Africa. World Cups were, until recently, seen as European and South American events with the occasional African extra providing a bit of colour.
Cameroon's performance in 1990, beating world champions Argentina and nearly knocking out England in the quarter-finals, changed everything. Suddenly Africa could no longer be ignored. African teams were respected at World Cups. The continent's best players moved to big European clubs. And Fifa finally agreed to let an African country host the sport's biggest tournament.
There have been problems. (Not just the issues of crime and security that have been hyped beyond recognition in the European press.)
Street hawkers have been banned from selling their wares near stadiums. Anyone sticking the words "World Cup 2010" on a keyring or the front of their bar has got a nasty letter from Fifa. And despite marketing the tournament as "Africa's World Cup", very few Africans from outside South Africa will be there, put off by an expensive and complicated ticketing process.
But despite all the difficulties, the World Cup remains a great opportunity to change the way the rest of the world sees South Africa and the continent as a whole.
The image we in the West have of Africa still tends to be overwhelmingly negative. The wars, the humanitarian crises, the corrupt leaders. The only positives are the nature. The amazing sunsets, the savannahs and the plains, the wild animals.
This tournament has the potential to chip away at those old images of what Africa is, if a continent with 53 countries and thousands of languages could ever be portrayed in a handful of words and pictures.
For one glorious month the world will be covering a good news story in Africa. The incredible stadiums that would grace any country. The great nightlife of Joburg and the café culture of Cape Town. The sheer normality of life in South Africa.
It will be something to celebrate.