All Eyes on SA

photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

To say that people around the world have been looking forward to this Friday would be an understatement of epic proportions.

I know adult men who haven’t been able to sleep all week – some of whom have even memorized every matchup in the group stage. Another friend takes great pride in reminding me of the number of minutes that remain to kick off, at least once an hour. The anticipation and addiction for the FIFA World Cup knows no limits really.

While I won’t be attending the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, I will be tuning in just like hundreds of millions of other people to every game. I’ll watch the games at pubs, in restaurants, at friends’ houses or from the comforts of my home in Sweden. I’ll marvel at how fans not only passionately cheer for their home country, but also root for the underdog, appreciate fine play, and squirm on the edge of their seats for 90 anxious minutes. I’ll feel warm inside when I witness a moment of good sportsmanship, where the subtlest of acts can make us all feel proud to be human.

The competition and love of sport are reason enough to tune in, but as South Africans are discovering, hosting such a global event is about so much more than just football.

It’s the opportunity to have all eyes on South Africa for 31 days, a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a positive impression on billions of people around the world. Vancouver, which recently hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, reaped the same benefits, albeit for a shorter period of time and to a smaller audience than the World Cup. Now that those games are part of history, what lingers on is the impression Vancouver made upon viewers around the world. I know South Africa will be leaving a profound impression.

People often wrongly assume the economic benefits of hosting such event should be immediate and measurable, yet the true benefits of such an event can never be captured by a dollar figure. South Africa can ride the momentum of a glorious World Cup for decades, and the fascinating South Africa montages will linger in all our minds long beyond the final match July 11. By then, we will all be South Africans, or will at least feel a newfound bond with your wonderful country.

My love of sport will be re-kindled this week when the World Cup begins. But as the month progresses, I know that South Africa, and South Africans, will also capture my imagination and heart, along with those of millions of people around the globe. It’s a celebration of far more than just a game really. To many over the next month, life will be lived either literally or vicariously through South Africa…. Thanks in advance for your hospitality.

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