8 January 2009
It’s safe to say that 2009 will be the most important year in this country’s sporting history.
In just six months, some of the giants of international football, including Brazil and Italy, will compete in the Confederations Cup. With a US$17-million prize fund, it will be the biggest sporting event ever staged on the African continent.
In terms of international television coverage, it will eclipse both the rugby and cricket world cups, and while it may pale in comparison to the 2010 Fifa World Cup that follows it, it will be the most serious test yet of South Africa’s abilities to host a mega sporting event.
Sure, we have hosted other important sports events, but nothing awakes the extraordinary sentiment and emotion of the quadrennial showpiece of international football – or this key curtain-raiser.
And the good news is that after a roller-coaster ride in most sporting codes, team South Africa is showing signs of peaking at the right time. Time magazine notes that after winning the Rugby World Cup last year, South Africa’s cricketers now stand atop the world ranking – “and for once, that old adage the ‘rainbow nation’ genuinely applies”.
“In 2010, South Africa hosts the soccer World Cup,” Time goes on. “It won’t win, but the success of its cricketers as they put the once-invincible Australians to the sword will have done nothing but lift South Africa’s spirits as it prepares for the world’s biggest sporting event.”
Closer to home, local newspaper The Times predicts that although this country will endure hard times in 2009, our gaze will be lifted to the World Cup: “We should not underestimate the effect this spectacle will have on our nation’s fortunes, lifting our mood and focusing world attention on our country’s infrastructure.”
Of course, much will depend on Bafana Bafana and how they handle their preparations for both tournaments but, again, the signs are promising. Under new coach Joel Santana, the team has recorded four morale-boosting victories in a row.
The time has now come for each and every South African to throw their weight behind the team which will play such an important role in determining the success of the 2010 World Cup.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010