FIFA’s shame on the dark continent

Posted: June 30, 2010 in 2010, Events, FIFA World Cup, football, rants, sport, sports
Tags: , , , , , ,

The World Cup in South Africa was meant to bring together the ‘dark continent’ and leave a legacy of hope and unity for Africa’s future. There was even optimistic talk that maybe, just maybe, the 6.5kg, 18-carat gold and malachite trophy might be won by an African side.

Instead it has left poverty-stricken South Africa with a £3.5 billion bill, and a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Don’t get me wrong, many accounts have suggested that the local’s hospitality and generousness of spirit has shown no bounds, and that many visitors have taken away a wonderful experience full of African flavour and flair.

However there has been a much darker experience of this world cup. In a poverty-stricken country where every extra rand earned makes a huge difference, FIFA’s insistence on commercial protection against even the smallest vendors has bordered on gross protectionism of the worst kind. We are not talking about simply seeing off the big multi-national rivals of major sponsors, such as the Dutch beer brand who ambush-marketed a Netherlands match with pretty girls in orange dresses, but more the ‘little people’, such as the ‘Jo’burg’ woman whose self-made food stall on which she depended for her livelihood, selling authentic, South African homemade food to very interested International tourists, had to be forcibly shut down by police in order to protect the profits of official sponsor McDonalds – a product they can all get at home. She had been quite happily making a small living selling this food to Soccer City stadium workers in the build up to the tournament, but as soon as the football fan tourists hove into view, the police dragged her and her stall off. Or the man who was selling hand-crafted key-chains featuring a small football, a metallic map of Africa and a ‘2010’, as well as a small vuvuzela. These had to be confiscated less they interfere with the profiteering of official merchandise. Interestingly enough, kicking out and arresting the Dutch beer girls seems to have drawn more attention to the beer brand than ignoring them probably would have done. Sales have sky-rocketed as a result of this FIFA own goal (It’s called ‘Bavaria’, if you are interested, and is quite a decent drop!)

FIFA’s ignorance of the opportunity they had to help heal a broken South Africa even extended to the official venue staff. The world’s governing body awarded a multi-million pound contract for stadium security to ‘Stallion Security Consortium’, who were highly embarrassed the day before the game between USA and England – possibly the biggest security threat in the whole tournament, when a British reporter for the Evening Standard managed to wander into just about every area of the stadium, including the players dressing rooms, completely unchallenged.  If that was embarrassing, they disgraced themselves when it emerged that the executives were on hundred-thousand pound salaries, and the poor, mostly local black stewards, were originally offered a paltry (but normal by local standards) 450 rand (about £25) per 15 hour shift, only to actually be given 126 rand (about £8.50) per shift. During these gruelling shifts, they had to endure the harsh cold of the South African winter (yes it gets freezing there at night in June) without any officially issued protective clothing. They were also only offered one meal a shift, and some complained the food was either rotten or had been left out during the whole shift. Unsurprisingly, they decided to strike in order to receive the wages they had originally been offered. Not wanting to face the embarrassment of calling off matches, FIFA called on the local police to disperse the security staff with tear gas, and install police guards as match stewards. The show must go on!

As I mentioned, the World Cup in South Africa has still managed to impose a certain ‘African-ness’ on the cup so far. Aside from the earthy African colours, tribal music, and the rather strange Dung Beetle ‘renewing life’ during the opening ceremony, the most obviously African element of the 2010 Cup, has been the incessant use en masse of the local horn known as a ‘vuvuzela’. Love it or hate it, there is probably very few people in the world today who have not had some experience of hearing the buzzing drone of this instrument. Indeed it has been so hard to ignore, that sometimes the commentary and pitch-side sound effects have been drowned out. When blown in large numbers within a football stadium, it produces a buzzing din which sounds like deadly swarms of Tanaostigmodes tambotis (that’s a species of Afrotropical Apoidea, or super-wasp, common to South Africa). This effect is especially acute when the trumpeters decide to blow in concerto in crescendo-ing waves, giving the effect the swarm of wasps is circling around, ready to deliver their deadly stings at any moment.

Some people apparently do enjoy this buzzing din. For me personally, my 2010 FIFA World Cup vuvuzela highlight was the noticeable absence of them in the England vs Slovenia match, in which it was replaced by that old-fashioned but irreplaceable football terrace activity known as singing. So much more pleasant. Indeed, made even the more so, by the sound of 15,000 English fans singing, in the ever-creative way they always do: ‘You can shove your vuvuzelas up your arse, You can shove your vuvuzelas up your arse, you can shove your vuvuzelas, shove your vuvuzelas, shove your vuvuzelas up your arse!’

This has all been before we have even stepped onto the pitch as well! Another FIFA balls-up, has been the ball itself. The ‘Jabulani’ African-themed ball (it’s name means ‘rejoice’ in Zulu), has caused upset and frustration for many of the players. Supertars who can usually be relied upon to hit the target from range have been constantly embarrassed and confused as their attempts at wonder-strikes from distance continue soaring up, up and away towards the nose-bleed seats. It also seemingly resulted in the lowest ever tally of goals after all teams had played one match in any world cup. Ever. And that, despite both Germany and Argentina scoring four each in their first matches. Surprisingly, some players have come out in support of the ball. Unsurprisingly, all of the players who have supported it seem to be personally sponsored by the ball’s manufacturer, Adidas.

Regardless of the ball we have also seen some pretty insipid performances from teams expected to do well. It is the first time the previous champions (Italy), and runners-up (France) have ever gone out in the first round. South Africa also suffered the ignominy of becoming the first ever host nation to go out in the first round. Africa’s other promising contingent of Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria all also disappointed by failing to progress, with only Ghana’s ‘Black Stars’ keeping the host-continent’s hopes alive. Out of the pre-tournament favourites, England proved the biggest disappointment, but despite their boorish early displays, they were ultimately undone by an absolutely dreadful refereeing error in their round of 16 match against arch-rivals Germany. Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda and his compatriot linesman somehow both failed to spot that Frank Lampard’s shot had ricocheted down off the cross bar and bounced a full metre inside the goal before spinning back out into the hands of the German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who best explains what happened next himself: “I tried not to react to the referee and just concentrate on what was happening. I realised it was over the line and I think the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee into thinking it was not over.” I guess that makes him not just a cheat but a boastful cheat to boot. It is true that the German’s went on to win 4-1, but all could see that the non-goal had left the English players demoralised, and their second half performance was hollow. Going in 2-2 at half time would have completely changed the complexion of the match.

Disappointingly, that glaring error has not been an isolated event. Even on the same day a dreadful offside call allowed Argentina’s Carlos Teves to claim an illegal goal and seal the fate of a spirited Mexico side. Indeed it is hard to remember any tournament, ever held, anywhere with so many cataclysmic refereeing howlers. Perhaps the benchmark was set before it even all began, in the France vs Ireland play-off, when Tierry Henry, a player most had previously considered to be above such juvenile cheating, clearly paddled the ball back into play with his hand in order to allow France to score the winner and undeservedly qualify for the finals. The benchmark was set. Under ‘can-do-no-wrong’ protection from FIFA, referees have blundered through, and ruined many matches at the 2010 finals – and taken the hopes of many teams along with them.

In Australia’s first match against powerful Germany, their job was made so much the harder, when Mexican official Marco Rodriguez sent off team talisman Tim Cahill for a challenge in which he won the ball. That decision turned a survivable 2-0, into a 4-0 route, and the Aussies eventually went out only on goal difference. But just to add to their troubles, they got done again in their second match. Having completely outplayed Ghana for the first 25 minutes, and already 1-0 up, their second best player Harry Kewell was given marching orders by Italian Roberto Rosetti, for hand ball on the goal line. Now the ball did hit his arm – his arm, that was firmly tucked against his body and in no way trying to control the ball. Law 12 clearly states the player must be making a deliberate action with the hand or arm to control the ball. Ghana equalised from the penalty, and with a numerical advantage hung on for a 1-1 draw. Chaill’s send off was made to look all the more silly when the next day, in the Italy vs Paraguay match, Mexican ref Tellez only gave a yellow to Paraguay’s Caceres for challenge in which he came in from behind and nearly broke the legs of Italy’s Riccardo Montolivo. French referee Stephane Lannoy, somehow contrived to interpret Ivory Coast’s Keita running into Brazilian Kaka as a foul, brandishing a straight red. In the same match he somehow completely forgot to notice Luis Fabiano blatantly handling the ball for Brazil’s first goal as well. USA were robbed when a perfectly good match winning goal goal against Slovenia was given as a foul. For what, no one is quite sure to this day. USA can also feel aggrieved that not one, but two perfectly good goals were disallowed by Hungarian Viktor Kassai in their 2-1 round of 16 loss to Ghana. In the round of 16 clash between Spain and Portugal, despite being 1-0 up, Spanish player Capdevila took a massive dive that everybody except Argentinian referee Hector Baldassi laughed at – instead Hector gave Ricardo Costa an even more laughable red card. The litany of errors is even longer, but that summarise the worst of the match changing ones. Yes FIFA, some of us do keep tabs. Has their ever been such a bulging catalogue of officialdom errors in such a short space of time? The standard of refereeing in South Africa has not only blighted this world cup, but also ruined it as a fair sporting contest.

FIFA have lost touch with what the game is about. How it inspires people, lifts their spirits, and gives them hope. In the quest to profit, the game has been totally commercialised, and has become an ugly thing as a result. The players are overpaid, spoiled prima-donnas, who think they are owed something and play accordingly. They no longer feel the connection, passion and pride of the fans, and seemingly no longer care. Indeed the grossly inflated cash of the Premier League has done more to tear players attention away from what the game is really about than anything else, and this is now reflecting a lack of pride in their national crests. Do you not see the anguish and pain on the fans faces. You should fight with your life for them, as many of them make massive sacrifices to follow and support you.

I am sure many people will take away happy memories from South Africa 2010, not least the side who eventually lift the trophy, but I am sure much of the local population, deprived of their only chance to witness such a spectacle in their own country, probably for the only time in their lifetimes, and also deprived of any opportunity to profit or even benefit from it, will not be amongst them. And nor I, as a true fan of what used to be a beautiful game, played by champions in a usually fair and honest way, will take happy memories from this tournament. My only hope is that in four years time, 32 of the world’s best international teams will descend on Brazil, and the local spirit will inspire the Brazilian philosophy of joga bonito – ‘beautiful play’.

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