Truth be told – I am not a massive football fan.
However, given that this is not a socially acceptable position – especially at this time – I have developed a strategy to hide my ignorance and indifference to the game; whenever the topic of the World Cup comes up I pronounce with great authority that The Netherlands is going to win. This prediction is not based on anything more than the fact that I find the name Robin van Persie oddly amusing. I think that any football team with a player called van Persie deserves my full support. It tickles me no end. I just have to hope that by the time you read this they haven’t been knocked out; that would really blow my cover properly.
But football aside the last few weeks have presented us with a unique opportunity to re-look our World Cup in 2010 through the lens of Brazil 2014 – and what a revelation that has been.
It is true that you ‘don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ and as we have watched this spectacle – or rather this damp squib – unfold, it has become increasingly apparent that we underestimated just what a success our World Cup was.
I am not referring here to the football that was played in 2010. Even I could tell that that was drab at best. I am also not referring to whether or not the thing was profitable in Rand terms. In my view that was never the point.
What I am referring to is the psychological impact that the tournament had on us in terms of our self belief that we could do anything we put our minds to. This caused most of us to participate in the success of the World Cup.
In April 2010 I conducted a research exercise for a series of radio programmes I was producing. As part of this research I asked South Africans from all over the country if they were positive about us hosting the World Cup and if they would be doing anything to contribute to its success.
The overwhelming majority of respondents responded in the affirmative and all of these said they would be doing something – however small – to contribute to the success of the event.
Just as an aside we were not participating because we felt positive. We were positive because we were participating. Participation in anything – your community safety programme, your child’s school, your church outreach, 67 Minutes for Mandela on 18 July – creates a sense of ownership and this leads people to feel positive and even proud. As I have said before – if you are feeling negative about South Africa participate more. You will be amazed at how your levels of ‘positivity’ rise.
As I was preparing to write this piece I looked back at the research to some of the things people said. It reignited that same spirit we all felt back in early 2010:
A KZN-based writer: “I will be flying the flag on my car, wearing my jersey on Football Fridays, watching games, going to fan parks, and writing about it flat-out!”
A Johannesburg-based NGO CEO: “For me it will be really important to treat our visitors to the country with the spirit of Ubuntu; to ensure that they have the most awesome experience. In terms of a legacy I want my organisation to create a platform through which people will be able to connect back to South Africa after the World Cup.”
A Cape Town-based businesswoman: “I have started a discussion amongst my business community about creating a vision for South Africa beyond the World Cup – a vision for 2020.”
A Johannesburg- based consultant: “I have made sure that 3 people who could otherwise not afford to go to a match will go and experience one. I have also planted African daisies all along the pavement in our road to welcome visitors. Viva!”
These ideas; these actions – all little earthquakes that combined to create a seismic shift in the collective consciousness of our people – are forever etched in the psyche of this nation.
With the benefit of hindsight we would never be the same after our World Cup and the richest legacy that it created was a memory of what it feels like – what it looks like – to succeed; to be world class; and of what we can achieve when we are unified by a common goal. That is infinitely greater than any profit or loss the event may have generated.
Even today – four years on – people say; “we can fix XYZ problem – look what we managed to achieve in 2010!” It created a vision of South Africa’s true – if at times frustratingly latent – potential.
Thank you Brazil for reminding us how great we can be.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysen: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.