Mbabane, Swaziland | 18 June 2014
And so the World Cup has begun.
The World Game’s biggest stage has landed in Brazil, the former Portuguese colony in South America, famous for its love of fun and exuberance, and more recently for its protests against government spending … on the World Cup.
All said, though, despite the understandable protests, Brazil has come a long way in recent times. The nation of 200 million is not only hosting soccer’s biggest tournament – it will also be hosting the Olympics in 2016.
Many people are asking: Couldn’t the money be better spent on education and health?
The answer: Probably.
But it’s undeniable that Brazil, the seventh largest economy on the planet, worth $2.5 trillion, has found a place on the global scene. And like all things that grow, growing pains are to be expected.
The protests are a sign of maturity.
Citizens feel empowered to voice their concerns and demand alternatives.
The Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has copped a lot of flack. Many Brazilians have defied the stereotype of the ‘soccer-crazed citizen’ as they demand better public services before the nation embarks on hosting huge world events.
Rousseff was recently quizzed by journalists in the lead up to the World Cup. She told the scribes that compared to when Brazil won the World Cup in 1970 – when Rouseff herself was a political prisoner in jail – the country had progressed in leaps and bounds. It’s hard not to agree with her.
But of course this is easy for me to say. I am not one of the millions of hungry Brazilian children living in a favela or shantytown, wondering where my next meal is coming from, praying that mum can afford to buy me a pair of soccer boots with her tiny wage, if she has a wage at all.
But enough of that righteous social justice jargon, for now.
Like the international media coverage in the lead up to the event (focusing on doomsday predictions that stadiums won’t be ready and how the protests might overshadow the beauty of the game) the opening ceremony was a predictable affair – as most opening ceremonies tend to be. People in odd-looking and tight-fitting costumes running around in circles as fancy light displays illuminate the arena. Sure, it looks kind of nice, for the first hour or two.
As is custom, the white doves were released at the ceremony, symbolising peace and harmony; and after the steamy Latin dancers finished shaking their hips, symbolising, well, symbolising steamy Latin dancers, Brazil were ready defeat to Croatia.
The final score read 3-1. But since the Croatian goal came off a Brazilian boot, 4-0 might be more accurate. The international media quickly shifted its narrative from protests and strikes to the 11-million jubilant inhabitants of the city of São Paulo.
Then it was time for the ‘Flying Dutchman’ Robin van Persie and ‘Speedy Gonzalez’ Arjen Robben, with skill and precision, to crush the Spaniards.
The goal scored by van Persie, headed into the top right-hand corner off a long and perfectly looped in ball from the half way mark, might well prove to be the goal of the tournament.
My patriotism however tells me the little Aussie pit-bull, Tim Cahill, will score a better goal in tonight’s match between Australia and the Netherlands.
But I guess that’s the thing about patriotism: it is often based on nothing but misguided hope – a powerful hope nonetheless.
All else failing, if Australia crash out of the World Cup, we could always journey to Somhlolo stadium for a contest? Soccerroos vs Sihlangu. You never know.