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August 17, 2010

The Blessing of Being There: Ruminations from the 2010 World Cup

What comes next?  That’s the only question that remains in regards to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The world came to South Africa-and to the dismay of many- Africa remains! No riots, no violent or untimely protest, not even a controversial final call that undermined the entire $25 billion affair (Ghana not withstanding). Being there was so special. As a child, I had the privilege of being in Atlanta for the 1996 Centennial Olympics. The magnitude of the Olympics was enormous for our city. In fact, Atlanta’s current reputation as a hub for business and entertainment can be largely credited to the convergence of the world on what was before a mere 1 million person Southern town.

I too fretted about South Africa’s capacity to deliver a fantastic World Cup. I read the rumors suggesting that the stadiums may not finish in time. The threat of boycotts. Violence. I listened to the British press and they were skeptical. Really skeptical.

But, the vibe overall was blessed, if not, entitled. It was like South Africa collectively saying, “We are ready for this, and we’re going to prove it!” And they did. The entire country welcomed the world with pride, grace, and tact. The breathtaking Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town rivaled any of the most modern and fantastic in the world.

Cars and shops donned South African flags. My attitude overall was inquisitive.  Naturally, my inclination is to hone in on the dynamic of race relations. Mainly, I wondered how socioeconomic status would affect people’s attitudes about the World Cup. After a nearly two months of well distributed quality time among diametrically opposed economic classes and races, I feel good about saying the entire country was positively buzzing about the biggest party in sports. For that month, it was one Rainbow Nation. Many of our interview subjects/hosts rightfully noted the absence of negative news on the daily circuit. The most poignant moment for us was the opening day of World Cup. It was electric. South Africa was preparing for the opening match against Mexico and we were heading Westbound on a train to Cape Town.

The train got busier and yellower with each stop. More fans, more flags, more vuvuzelas. More energy. The patrons mirrored the makeup of the population. Mainly nonwhites, but lots of whites, too.  Everyone equally enthusiastic. In particular, there were three boys who set the tone for the rest of us. They were about 14-17. They were laughing and screaming and blooowing those vuvuzelas. It was awesome. Everyone on the train followed their lead with laughter, chanting and horn blowing (this was only a precursor to the party on Long Street during the match. Or, the famous “Fun Walk” into the stadium. Gosh…).

Anyway, the three boys are hanging out of the train, screaming, laughing, and vuvuzelaing. It was an energetic climax that I will never forget-and-some of the most beautiful footage we captured this year.

The moment triggered the feeling of Obama’s election. The prevailing sentiment was historic and boundlessly optimistic. As in the Obama case, we do not yet know what the future holds for the country, but it was nice to be there during a time of magnificent optimism and positivity. I don’t know, “what happens now?”, but I am blessed to have been there when a nation as mired and resilient felt they could do anything.

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