Empire of Sport


World Cup 2010

The group stage of the 2010 World Cup ends today—the group stage of the first African World Cup, as we’re reminded again and again by the soccer salesmanship masquerading as studio commentary before, during, and after each game. And of the six teams drawn from what is being called the “home continent,” only Ghana has managed to advance. (They’ll play the U.S. on Saturday afternoon.) The bafana bafana of South Africa are the first host nation to get knocked out so early, despite delivering the tournament’s spectacular opening goal. That goal, we were told, ignited the hearts of fans from Gibraltar to the Cape of Good Hope. And the failure of Algeria, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and South Africa to advance has been called an “African tragedy.”

No one is talking about a “European tragedy,” though six European sides are already heading home. (Tournament favorite Spain are in danger, too: they have to beat enterprising Chile this afternoon to advance.) And no commentators would think to describe the early exits of France and Italy as disappointments for, say, Merkel or Zapatero—or to imagine the pubs of London in a state of mourning following a surprise loss by Germany. No one would believe it if they did, continents being things that are usually divided into, you know, nations—nations often made hostile by proximity and divided by borders typically set by, you know, wars. And soccer being the way Europeans litigate hostilities in the age of the Euro.

And yet the air is thick with something in Soccer City, the Johannesburg complex where (imported?) production teams have been preparing for us all those montages of cheetahs, primitivist graphics, and Jungle Book voice-overs we’ve been eating up all tournament. We don’t have a neat African equivalent for the term Orientalism, but how about vuvuzelism?