As I write this the World Cup soccer extravaganza taking place in South Africa has reached the final knock-out stages of the competition. The ultimate winner has not yet emerged – there is still a week of competition to go - but we are experiencing yet another South African mini miracle taking place before our eyes.
I have a very personal involvement in this massive exercise .We lived our lives in South Africa and came on aliyah only recently What pleasure we are getting watching TV and seeing our fellow South Africans so enjoying the exposure to the world and its people. The atmosphere throughout the country is contagious and the excitement and camaraderie thanks to modern technology allows us to share in that joy while sitting in our lounges in Israel watching one match after the other. I have not yet had the courage to actually blow a vuvuzela out into the Middle Eastern night when goals are scored – but they echo out there in the darkness from the many TVs in the vicinity tuned in to the games late into our evenings one night after the other.
South Africa is a most beautiful country. The world is familiar with its richest material assets - the gold, the diamonds, the pristine beaches, the majestic mountain ranges, the phenomenal scenery – the wonderful game parks. Unfortunately this all comes at a price. No one is ignorant of the immense problems the continent faces; the poverty, corruption, crime, hunger, unemployment and lack of opportunity for many, and the scourge of Aids. But temporarily the troubles are forgotten – they have been shrugged off just for a while, albeit but a respite. For the doors of Africa have opened wide to welcome the world in to appreciate the warmth, the “ubuntu” spirit of the people and the genuine appreciation for the thousands of visitors that have flocked in to visit and enjoy a unique experience. There is hope burning in the breasts of South Africans again, the hope that things can well be different - and in fact for this short space of time there is a taste of what may be possible long term. And that applies even here in Israel. A comment in our local paper notes the sizable drop of violence from the West Bank since the commencement of the World Cup. Is it possible that negative energy can be transformed into positive enthusiasm?
And all of this magical euphoria – how did it come about? Because of a game - the game of soccer. Long accepted as the most popular of international sports generating the largest numbers of spectators, it is also the most emotive as far as supporters are concerned. In this particular 2010 World Cup those emotions have all been joyful. There have been plenty of surprises - both good and bad. Overwhelming enthusiasm one night – bitter disappointment a few days later - teams have come and teams have gone home. Some with their pride intact, some with their pride in tatters. Its all in the name of the game. That is soccer. This ball is round.
Israel did not qualify for the competition this year. South Africa made history by being the first hosting side to be eliminated in the preliminary rounds. One would imagine that this might dampen the enthusiasm of this watching public. Not a chance - the quarter finals are here – our allegiance changes as successive favorites stumble and are knocked out. We walk around in the day time functioning at half mast – exhausted from the constant late nights of adrenalin surges in the current game. The World Cup winners have not yet got a name but the overall knockout winner is undoubtedly the game of soccer.
FIFA took a big gamble in entrusting this competition to South Africa. The gamble in terms of human connection and communication certainly paid off.
May the wonderful spirit these games have generated last for a long time.
And may the best team win.