8 June 2010
South Africa is now just days away from the party of a lifetime.
The signs are there for all to see – the millions of flags, the enormous Word Cup-themed murals draped around buildings, the clatter of helicopters, the droning of vuvuzelas, the scramble for tickets, round-the-clock roadworks, and the orderly chaos as millions of people gear up for global football’s showpiece event.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter last week stamped his approval by saying: “All the work has been done here”.
On the field, South Africa is finally showing real signs of life. Twelve matches have now passed without defeat, and the Bafana Bafana strike-force – Siphiwe Thabalala, Surprise Moriri, Bernard Parker, Katlego Mphela and Siyabonga Nomvethe – are hitting the net at last.
And coach Carlos Parreia has finally put the Benni McCarthy issue to bed. Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that the fading star has long been a divisive factor in the Bafana camp.
But the most pleasing aspect of the build-up to the 2010 Fifa World Cup is how the event is uniting a nation that is still showing divisions 16 years after democracy.
South Africans are learning the verses of their multi-lingual national anthem sung in languages other than their own and they are united in their determination to see their beloved Bafana – the most unfancied host nation in the history of the World Cup – succeed.
Four years ago, a similar scenario played itself out in Germany – the hosts of the previous edition of the World Cup. Like South Africa, Germany had been through enormous social upheavals as a result of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the unification of East and West.
But for one glorious month, the greatest sporting event on the planet provided the glue that united that nation and changed international perceptions of Germans – and their country – overnight.
And so it will be over the next month as South Africa deservedly takes its place as the centre of the universe and is presented with an opportunity to showcase all that is good about this beautiful land and its extraordinary diversity.
Let the party begin!
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010