Monday, June 21, 2010

I wouldn't support Italy just because they're European. Actually I wouldn't support Italy.

This is Africa's World Cup or so we're told. Ever since South Africa won the bid to host the World Cup, various sporting and political elites have said that this tournament is for all Africa. This idea of a continental identity elsewhere would seem bizarre at best. Imagine the absurdity if England won the rights to host the 2018 edition and declare that it was a tournament for all Europe! Brazil haven't claimed that 2014 is South America's turn, Asia is too vast for any coherent idea of what it is to be "Asian" and if Australia hosted 2022, I doubt there would be much trans-Tasman bonhomie.

If this really is Africa's World Cup, the African teams seem to have missed this. Cameroon are out, South Africa need to score a bucket-full of goals, Cote d'Ivoire would have to score even more, Nigeria and Algeria are rooted to the bottom of their respective groups and Ghana failed to punish 10-man Australia. Yet, more significantly, many South Africans supporting the other African teams because they are African. As the only non-African in the room watching the Cameroon - Denmark game, I deliberately cheered for the Danes to annoy everyone else. They were jubilant when Eto'o put Cameroon ahead but clearly irritated with my chants of "Denmark! Denmark! Denmark!" and the two Danish goals. TV and radio commentators argue that fans are being let down by the African teams. As an Englishman, it's a strange concept. I wouldn't feel let down if Italy or France got eliminated. I'd positively revel in it! Maybe people on other continents have different views on this? It was the same during my MSc research in Ghana and Togo in 2006. Supporters that I spoke to in the respective capitals wanted Angola, Cote d'Ivoire and Tunisia to win if their teams couldn't.

At the Egypt - Italy Confederations Cup at Ellis Park last year, I was cheering for the Egyptians and they duly won. The vast majority of the crowd at that game were South Africans. While this is admittedly a massive generalisation, almost all the white South Africans were supporting Italy while non-white South Africans generally chose Egypt. Catching up with some of the hardcore Bafana fans after the game, they assumed that I was supporting Italy. They were shocked when they found out that we were supporting the same team. "But you're from Europe!" This brings up questions of what it means to be African and who identifies themselves as such. However, this is a blog not an essay...

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