This is a big year for sub-Saharan Africa. February marked the 125 anniversary of the end of the Berlin Conference, which initiated the imperialist “Scramble for Africa” and flung into place a great many of the continued (and not unproblematic) national borders still in existence today, among other things. More than a dozen nations are having elections, including Sudan, which is undergoing the democratic process for the first time in over two decades. A sitting head of state – Omar al-Bashir – has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes of genocide. A new hominid skeleton (aged more than 2 million years) has been discovered, further muddling the heated debate about just who the immediate ancestor of mankind is yet again. Also, I’m moving to Kenya, in case you hadn’t heard, which may not be continent-wide news but it’s certainly a big deal for some (and by “some” I mostly mean “me.)

Weighty though these events are, a great many people will tell you they are secondary in comparative significance to what’s about to happen in June.

Oh yes. You guessed it.

It’s time for the 2010 FIFA WORLD CUP.

I for one haven’t been this excited for a sporting event since … well … the 2006 World Cup, although that ended differently than I’d hoped. It had been my sincere hope to attend the World Cup this year or, at the very least, be in South Africa when it happened. However, as we’ve seen, that wasn’t in the cards – by the time the matches begin, I’ll be well and truly entrenched in Kenya. I wouldn’t have it any other way, of course, but still … if I could be in two places at once … *sigh*

Those who don’t understand football (read: the majority of Americans) may have slightly challenging time grasping the significance of this event, so I’ll clue you in to some of the basics.

1. The FIFA World Cup is an elimination event for which only 32 teams qualify. Qualifiers have been going on – literally – FOR YEARS.

2. Football – or “soccer,” if you prefer – is HUGE in the rest of the world. At the beginning of the last World Cup, I was in Bhutan, and it was pretty much the second or third question every single person asked. What’s your name, where are you from, WHO ARE YOU HOPING WILL WIN THE WORLD CUP???? This, in a country that’s technically (legally, at least) not supposed to have television. Or wasn’t. (There’s a very cute Bhutanese movie about satellite dishes and soccer, actually.)

3. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event IN THE WORLD – WAAAAY more than the Superbowl, the Winter Olypmics, or whatever that final basketball thing was that everyone was up in arms about. Almost 800 million people tuned in to the 2006 one. That’s almost 3 times the ENTIRE population of the United States.

4. This is the first time a World Cup has been held on African soil. Hell, it’s the first time an African nation was seriously considered in the runnings, to the best of my knowledge. In fact, all of the countries considered hosting this year (South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco) were African, but South Africa was the only sub-Saharan nation.

5. The only teams that have ever *won* the world cup are from South America and Europe. Wouldn’t it be a good year for an African cup winner?

6. Hosting the World Cup has not been without its perils for South Africa … but I think that’s a topic of such weight and scope as to deserve its own blog posting. Suffice to say for now that it isn’t an event wholly unaccompanied by dark challenges.

But on a lighter note … who am I rooting for? Well, that’s a topic for another post, methinks. I’ve no doubt that this is not the only post I’ll be doing on the Biggest Sporting Event Of All, partly because it’s IMPORTANT, and partly because it gives me something to ponder while I tread water waiting to leave (42 DAYS!!!!). Stay tuned. In the meantime, who are YOU rooting for?

Advertisements