The World Cup is about soccer. Yes, that’s obvious, but it’s about soccer wider and deeper than in the communities in which you find yourself, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
High school kids love it because they can arrange pick-up games galore, with the spectacle almost overshadowed by their own games as they work exams into their soccer schedule.
Varsity students love it as they stay out even later watching the games and enjoying themselves – with the excuse that they are soccer-mad and it’s their civic duty to watch every game and celebrate or commiserate accordingly.
Offices are divided as their loyalties are tested and some partake in office pools, picking a team from a hat and throwing their weight behind their allotted teams.
But will Russia 2018 be the same? Bafana Bafana won’t be there, which always diminishes the interest, and with so much football being played, league and cup games blur into one and it’s hard to distinguish the important from the unmissable.
Soccer seems to have grown in recent years or, at least, had its consciousness ‘re-enlightened’ with harsher stands taken on diving, blatant cheating, obscene money spent in the pursuit of trophies, boardroom bribery and the like.
The awarding of the rights to Russia – and Qatar, for that matter – amid corruption claims and human-rights violations has not gone unnoticed. Add the numerous complaints of racism against players in the local league and there’s little room for the usual ‘party atmosphere’.
The list of ‘issues’ must surely also include the threat of hooliganism and how the actions of these ‘fans’ will play out in bars and streets around the nation.
There’s a growing feeling in the host nation that the decision to bring the tournament to the country was ill-timed but now, of course, there’s no turning back.
The war on drug violations in sport has hit Russia the hardest; the stadiums have cost the economy a great deal; and the team are set for huge disappointment as they are considered the worst – according to the rankings – in the 32-team competition.
Then there’s the small matter of the international political crisis involving the West and Russia, which, thankfully, didn’t end in, for example, the Three Lions being forced to boycott the showpiece.
The Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014 was a dud when it came to the fan experience and there’s an avalanche of support for the thinking that Russia 2018 will be the most forgettable in modern times.
Awarding the World Cup to Russia was an own goal; now Fifa must hope the teams will score some goals for them, or face a loss like never before.
– This article first appeared in the June issue of SoccerClub magazine