Football reading – with a warning

First off, Oliver Holt in the Mirror, describing Afcon as “the perfect demonstration of South Africa’s World Cup legacy”:

Here’s a funny thing about the African Cup of Nations.
There are no Europeans trying to tell the organisers what to do.
Nobody signing petitions to try to ban fans from blowing vuvuzelas.
Nobody telling the mamas who sell pap and fried chicken outside games they can’t come within five miles of the stadium.
Nobody telling supporters who earn £1 or £2 a day they have to pay £40 a pop for a ticket.
Nobody saying: “Our culture is better than your culture.” Nobody saying: “Why can’t you just be a little bit more like us?”

AFCON 2013 is way better for it, too. It’s like the World Cup in 2010 would have been before Fifa de-Africanised it.

It’s full of life, vigour and colour, the slow drum sway of Nigeria fans, the choreographed vuvuzela-moves of Burkina Faso fans, the delirious joy of the Ethiopians.
It is a celebration of football, of course, and the match between holders Zambia and minnows Ethiopia in Nelspruit on Monday was full of exquisite skill and great drama. But it is also a celebration of South Africa, a showcase for the legacy of hosting the World Cup.

Anyone who read this blog during that World Cup may recall that I argued the same thing while exposing the excuses behind the pathetic French performance against Uruguay:

The vuvuzela is part of the African football experience. I’m sorry you don’t like it. But what you like is not of interest to me right now – you want a World Cup in Africa, then have an African World Cup.

But Holt tonks the nail squarely on the bonce when he notes the real problem with the World Cup legacy is people’s perception:

The legacy of the 2010 World Cup is everywhere in South Africa.
It just depends whether you want to see it or not.


Secondly, a rather (too?) glowing piece on the other side of “football’s bad boy”, Craig Bellamy:

The Manchester City forward is often regarded as being one of football’s bad boys, but off the pitch there is a very different side to him.

Few know… that Bellamy has put hundreds of thousands of pounds into his West African academy, has spent two weeks in Sierra Leone during the past three summers and is well versed in the continent’s history and politics.

There has always been far more to this Welsh firebrand, who physically and verbally confronted a Manchester United supporter on the pitch at the end of last Sunday’s Old Trafford derby, than his ‘Mr Angry’ caricature suggests. His apparent compulsion to venture where others fear to tread is not always misplaced.

It’s an enlightening and thought-provoking article, indicating that there is something to be said for looking beyond first impressions.  And while the writer describes scenes from Freetown, one wonders whether she has ever actually met Bellamy or is just relying on hearsay. That’s because the “she” is Louise Taylor and my first impression of her, which I’m struggling to look beyond, was this:

Why going to South Africa for the World Cup terrifies me:
Statistics, anecdotes and research suggest that touring the Rainbow nation as a fan next summer could be a dangerous option.
In fact, the 2010 World Cup should have gone to Egypt.

And lest we forget, when she wrote that back in July 2009, Louise had never been to South Africa. I’m not sure if she’d ever been to Egypt, but her rationale for awarding them the World Cup at South Africa’s expense was:

surely if the Egyptians could build the pyramids they could host a World Cup.

oh, and:

Moreover, staging football’s biggest and best event in a key centre of the Arab world might just have helped ease tensions between the international Muslim community and the west while simultaneously weakening the Islamic fundamentalists growing hold over hearts and minds.

*cough* Quality predictive journalism, right there.

So Louise, I hope that based on your track record you’ll excuse my reluctance to take your ramblings seriously. I’d love it if Craig Bellamy and his Academy was doing wonderful work in Sierra Leone, but I’ll wait until I see some evidence of it elsewhere before I actually believe it.

Still, if we’re looking for alternative precariously-positioned and potentially risky nations for Craig to further pursue his altruism, perhaps I might be so brave as to suggest… er… Egypt?

Seen it all before

One of the biggest eye-openers you can have is seeing a story in the press of which you have personal knowledge.
When you read the article, you can marvel at just how inaccurate and mis-representative the reporter or journalist is being.
Applying this new-found enlightenment to other stories in the media can lead to chronic cynicism when reading newspapers or perusing internet news sites. You may suddenly find that you want to take the content with an appropriately sized pinch of salt. Builder’s Warehouse sell 25kg bags of salt for exactly this purpose. Buy a couple – they’ll will last you a week.

Of course, it could be that you just got unlucky and that all the other stories out there are 100% bang on, deadly accurate.
But that seems rather unlikely, doesn’t it?

And it was with a heavy and cynical heart that I read the latest attack on Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup in the Guardian.

And so to 2014. Three years ago, when Brazil was unveiled as the host of the next World Cup, the country’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, promised a tournament so well organised that even his country’s greatest rivals – the Argentinians – would be unable to criticise it. Now, however, even Brazilians are starting to speak out against the lack of progress in stadium construction and infrastructure projects, amid concern over corruption and bad planning and calls for the number of host cities to be cut from 12 to 10.

It’s exactly what they were saying about South Africa 4 years ago. And that’s got me on the phone to my local salt mine.

Because the issues over crime and security were unfounded. The allegations that the stadiums would not be ready or would not be up to standard were nonsense. Our transport system upgrades were completed and well utilised. And when the media realised this, they moved on to more trivial, more foolish stories of snakes, race wars and the like.

I know you’re as thankful as I am that SA stayed free of significant seismological activity during the tournament.

The Guardian article describes Brazil’s 2014 bid as being “ambitious”. Well, good. What were they expecting? Brazil to submit their bid documents detailing six 50-year-old stadiums and hope that visitors will find their way around on foot, noting that it might be a long walk from Rio to some of the stadiums in the north of the country?

And then the dig at the transport infrastructure:

Even in the country’s affluent south-east, motorways are often crater-ridden dual carriageways; in the poorer north-east and mid-west their standard is frequently life-threateningly bad.

Has Tom Phillips actually relied on anything other than hearsay and his own creative licence before reporting that? Because it does sound like much of the stuff I was hearing about South Africa in the (elongated) run-up to the 2010 World Cup. And I know that a lot of that wasn’t actually true – or was at the very least blown out of all proportion. Who could forget Louise Taylor’s nonsense in the… er… Guardian (and which I dealt with ever so briefly at the bottom of this)?

Marcotti wrote of some long, unpleasant drives in the dark after covering matches. Commenting on the lack of dual carriageways and lit highways in certain areas, he described negotiating one road heading towards Jo’burg as “like snorkelling in a sewer filled with squid ink”. Shortly afterwards came the sad news that a German journalist had been killed in a car accident while driving to a Confederations Cup match.

Personally I’d have preferred the 2010 World Cup to have gone to Egypt. Yes, it would have been very hot (although it’s a dry heat) and it would, in places, have been dirty and ultra-chaotic, but it would also have been friendly and welcoming. And, in terms of crime, Egypt is extremely safe. Eyebrows would doubtless have been raised at the potential for organisational mayhem, the nightmarish Cairo traffic and the downtown air pollution, but surely if the Egyptians could build the pyramids they could host a World Cup.

Of course, the Egyptians did host the World Cup back in 4010 BC and it was a highly lauded tournament – but with their abilities as pyramid builders, it was always going to be a success. And this even though many of their roads were very poorly lit.
And South Africa’s success some 6000 years later was achieved despite it going dark at night. Amazing.

But I digress.

Maybe Brazil are behind schedule. Maybe the transport infrastructure is poor. Maybe there is political interference at every level (perish the though that this would occur anywhere else in the world).
But I don’t believe all I read in the newspapers. And I’ve seen what can be achieved in four years and thus I refuse to write them off already. Looking at many of the comments below Phillips’ piece, I can see that a lot of others are losing faith with these stories too.

Of course, when Brazil isn’t ready and the 2014 tournament is in disarray, Phillips will be able to look back and tell us that he told us so. But where is Louise Taylor’s admission that she got it so very hopelessly wrong about South Africa in 2010?

Força, Brasil!

2009 KiTT: The story so far

I have finally managed to get around to using the ultra fast internet here on the Isle of Man to upload the first few photos of the 2009 Kids in Tow Tour to flickr. And not only that, but these are also the first batch taken with my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28. And I love it.

Calf Sound, Isle of Man

The weather is sunny, but the northwest wind is keeping it cool. But get out of the breeze and it’s lovely. And though we’ve only been here for 24 hours, it feels like forever: this place relaxes you instantly. We were down by the sea this morning, watching the seals and for about 2 hours, we just did nothing. Any parent will tell you how rare and precious that sort of time is.

The boy, born and brought up in suburban Cape Town, is in his element. There is space, fresh air, farm animals, birds, sea, rocks to scramble over, grandparents and a plastic tool kit that his Auntie Jane bought him. This morning he went up to the farm with Grandma to collect the milk. The rural equivalent of 7/11 – this stuff comes unpasteurised in churns, not in plastic cartons.

Now, as I sit inside this beautifully renovated 18th century cottage, tapping away on a rather posh laptop, I can see the family beginning a game of cricket outside in the sun. It seems foolish not to join them.

Until next time…

P.S. Thanks to all of you who have forwarded me Louise Taylor‘s hysterical piece in the Guardian on visiting South Africa for the World Cup next year.

She suggests that Egypt should have hosted the tournament. That’s Egypt which polled a mighty zero votes when they were selecting the host nation. Yes, Louise knows all about democracy.

As she says, “surely if the Egyptians could build the pyramids they could host a World Cup?” Yes, Louise knows all about hosting major sporting events.

And then, the piece de la resistance. Those four little words: “I’ve never been, but…”.

Yes, Louise knows all about South Africa.