Durban, South Africa – 16 December 2009
The countdown is on for next year’s FIFA World Cup — and the country of South Africa is feeling the attention. Why Sport Matters is dedicating a longer time than usual to explore this great country, and discover more about what sport means as well as the impact that the football World Cup is having here. We are down at the southern end of Africa for the entire month of December and spending time in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
In order to understand South Africa, you must begin to appreciate the social and historical complexities of race relations and the impact of the apartheid era. The sport culture here is extremely rich and it is an interesting reflection and commentary of South African society. The big three sports are football, rugby and cricket. Having already hosted world cups in rugby (1995) and cricket (2003), the biggest tournament of all is coming here in 2010 as South Africa plays host to the FIFA football World Cup in June.
The impact of next year’s football world cup can be felt everywhere. Upon arriving in Johannesburg, John went straight to SoccerEx, the annual football convention for world football. Plenty of other FIFA Master alumni were in attendance at the conference and it was great to see so many having an impact in the football industry. Our good friend Renata Roth is on the organising team for SoccerEx and helped put on a great event. As Brazil will host the next World Cup (as well as the next few SoccerEx conventions and 2016 Olympic Games), the Brazilians were out in force, which gave a taste of things to come in 2014.
Many of the conference attendees (including ourselves) then made the trip to Cape Town to take part in the FIFA World Cup draw on 4th December. It was the first real flavour of the World Cup as it was a major VIP event and the city exploded into a big party and street festival. Why Sport Matters took in the atmosphere of the street happenings, as downtown’s main boulevard (Long Street) was closed to cars and hosted a wonderful (and safe) party. Check out the video that shows a Brazilian TV reporter trying to film a spot from amongst the throng of partiers.
We also took the occasion to have a more organised FIFA Master alumni reunion, and 12 of us had a nice dinner together the day after the big party (see photo). Thanks to Anja for organizing (and suggesting that John give everyone a short update on the Why Sport Matters project thus far). It was great to have Chuck Korr in attendance as well, who was in town thanks to his involvement as author of the book, More Than Just a Game: Football v Apartheid, which chronicles how sport played a big role for the political revolutionaries imprisoned on Robben Island. Chuck did a number of interviews as the world’s press were looking to cover this amazing story.
Many thanks to our friends Louise and Brett for hosting us during our time in Cape Town. For our first night in town, they invited us on a hike up Lion’s Head mountain for an amazing sunset and sweeping views of downtown, Table Mountain and the stunning coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. We shot this video from the top of Table Mountain for the evening sunset, and it was the perfect way to take in this beautiful city.
As part of the weekend’s activities, the first of the 20 FIFA Football for Hope centres was officially opened out in the township of Kayelitsha. FIFA is working with Streetfootballworld (an organization which networks sport for development projects around the world) to develop these centres around Africa as part of the 2010 World Cup. In Kayelitsha, an impoverished area in eastern Cape Town, a centre was built and is being managed and run by Grassrootsoccer (another organization which promotes AIDS awareness and prevention through soccer). Why Sport Matters had the occasion to attend the opening weekend at the centre, and got to interview Kirk Friedrich from Grassrootsoccer and Vladimir Borkovic from Streetfootballworld.
A trip to Cape Town would not be complete without a visit to Robben Island, the small, rocky island only a few miles from the Cape Town city centre. Having served as the prison compound for the South African political prisoners during apartheid era, it is mostly associated with Nelson Mandela’s 27 years of imprisonment. Chuck Korr documented in his book how sport, especially football, played an important part of the prison life on the island. The football pitch is still there, taking up a large part of the open prison yard. Our guide, a former prisoner, also explained to us a bit of the sport culture for the prisoners, and even showed the power of sport as the cap he was wearing which said – We Speak Football Here).
Our timing was fortunate to have another good taste of sport and culture in South Africa. We were able to attend the premiere party for the Hollywood film Invictus. This is the story of how Nelson Mandela used South Africa’s hosting of the rugby world cup in 1995 to help pull the country together in the immediate aftermath of apartheid. Rugby has long been associated with the white community in South Africa, and Mandela realized there was a significant opportunity to bridge the racial divide by supporting the team and urging them on to victory (which incredibly they won the tournament). Morgan Freeman plays President Mandela, and we met him briefly at the premiere. We also met John Carlin, author of the book the movie was based on – Playing the Enemy.
During apartheid, the playing of sport teams was segregated by race, and the national teams were white only. In reaction, the international community typically banned South African teams from international competitions. As a result of this exclusion, sport in South Africa suffered. Eventually, the racial policy and restrictions began to ease when it came to sport, as South Africans were passionate to field the best players possible and be a part of the world’s biggest competitions. We were able to do interviews with Andre Odendaal and Omar Henry, two prominent figures in the movement to desegregate cricket, and their stories show how sport played a key role in the eventual realization that apartheid was not a sustainable option.
The coastal beauty of Cape Town often reminded us of California. We spent one day at the beach at Camps Bay and took in some of the beach culture by watching some well-organised beach soccer and touch rugby tournaments. Other stops in our busy schedule included a tour of the Stellenbosch wine region (including Ernie Els’ winery – see photo), and the required trip to the Cape of Good Hope. A special thanks to Corne, Brett and Louise, Jonathan Riley, and Kamilla Swart.
We are currently on the east coast city of Durban before heading to Johannesburg for the two weeks of Christmas holidays. We plan to spend the first week of January in Zambia, and it looks like we will need to cancel plans for Angola as we are struggling to obtain our entry visas!
Until next time, Why Sport Matters wishes everyone a Happy Holidays!
Like always we welcome your feedback and comments. And don’t forget to subscribe to get updates direct to your email.