Four years ago South Africa welcomed us with an unmistakable excitement and friendliness that compensated for its shockingly cold southern winter. It had been expected and widely reported by especially the western media, that South Africa as a World-Cup host nation would be insecure.
It was almost as if the M1 out of Oliver Tambo International Airport would be lined on either side with natives carrying those short Zulu-spears waiting to stab unsuspecting foreigners.
As it turned out, all the perceptions about crime and lawlessness turned out to be the figment of someone’s elastic imagination. Whether all the criminals were numbed by the eminence of the event, we will never know. What is clear to me and many others who graced the World Cup is that it was a proper festival devoid of major security incidents.
Yes there were the usual challenges of accessibility as would be expected of a global event on the magnitude of the World Cup in a city of 5 million automobiles and an underdeveloped public transportation system.
But fans whenever they made it to different stadia and fan parks never let the biting cold dampen their spirits. When they were not capturing ‘Kodak’ moments they were engaging in good natured chant wars and mixing with yesterday’s and today’s football greats who also seemed caught up in the significance of the moment.
Eventually Spain emerged worthy winners even if a final versus Holland should have been more impressive. Many judged that world cup as one lacking in individual brilliance but that didn’t make it any less of a spectacle.
A World Cup in Africa needed to prove itself off the pitch and not on it, because and for instance while there was no doubt about the ability of the eventual champions there was always going to be doubts about South Africa’s readiness.
To the extent therefore that South Africa welcomed and hosted the world, the showpiece was a tremendous success. And so we move on to Brail 2014.
But as is almost customary now, a lot of pre-event negative publicity is doing the rounds.
The Brazilians actually don’t seem to be particular tickled by this event as much as the South Africans were and did express their disgust in violent street riots at last year’s Confederation cup. It also doesn’t help that a couple of stadium roofs have collapsed over workers leaving behind a whiff of ill-preparedness.
But I like to think football will shine through in the end. For one it is not responsible for the worlds’ misfortunes plus I also have never believed that iconic events such as this one should be held hostage by social rights campaigners no matter how justified their causes are.
So even if in the cold light of day that follows the World Cup final Brazil will wake up with a billion dollar hangover and continue to grapple with the day to day issues that bedevil society, a story will have been told. Yes, crime and poverty cannot be willed away, but if only for a brief moment, football will make humanity rise above the mire, just like it did in South Africa. And when that happens I want to be a witness like I was a whole four years ago.