Sunday, December 06, 2009

On the Ground: World Cup Draw

Cape Town 2009-12-04,

With tickets for five games sitting in my back pocket, I couldn't help but be excited by Friday's draw. Add to that a pile of media coverage leading up to the draw, including an interview I heard with the head of the South African organizing committee, Danny Jordaan, where he said Friday's draw would "kill any doubts" that we would be able to successfully host the world cup. I was skeptical, but hopeful. After all, even with labor disputes and the unreliability of "African time", it looks like all the stadia are pretty much ready to go. Hallelujah.

The fam and I decided to head down to the party on Long Street just a few blocks from the actual draw to get into the spirit of things. We showed up around 5pm, so we missed out on the free hats and the ensuing angry mob, which was probably a good thing. There was live music, tons of food, lots to drink, and so many people stuffed into a small area (over 50,000 by some counts) that it felt a bit more like Mardis Gras than a world cup draw (not a bad thing).

I was glad to see that access to the event was controlled by security personnel, even if they didn't do a thorough check of my kid carrier. I guess we didn't look dangerous enough. On the inside, it was like any other street festival, with one, small, difference. This was a party leading up to the most significant sporting event in the world, which is going to be happening in our backyard in mere months. Everyone here in SA who has even the slightest interest is tingling with excitement, and there's a real sense that we're going to be making this a VERY African tournament. That basically means it's going to be really, really loud, and any team playing against an African outfit is seriously going to have the crowd to contend with.

We stopped at our favorite Long Street eatery, and Masala Dosa never disappoints, but they were bogged down by the sheer volumes of people coming through the door. Organizers and businesses here will need to get it in their heads that there are a lot of people who are going to take part in this tournament, more than just those with tickets to games, and way more than at the highest peak of tourist season. That means everything needs to be organized to scale, whether it's lamb roti from a street vendor or silly yellow hats handed out at a street festival. Once we had our snack, things started to get a bit too crowded, so we took off before the claustrophobia really set in. The throngs were still pouring in as we were leaving, and we got home at about 7 with plenty of time to watch the most important part of the draw show.

The show itself was a bit tame compared to the street party, but it still had some pretty good stuff. It's hard to compete with Charlize Theron, and there aren't many women as big or with as big a voice as that lady from the Soweto Gospel Choir. The draw happened, with no serious complications, other than South Africa getting a bit of a tough draw. I *nearly* got to see England vs USA, but they got slotted into C2 instead of C3. Oh well. England vs Algeria isn't nearly as exciting, but it'll have to do.

In any case, the tournament is happening. Here. I'll give Jordaan that much. I'm now a believer, even if I don't understand what the hell John Smit and Makhaya Ntini have to do with soccer. But make no mistake, crime will be an issue, so will transport, so will accommodation. But the games...the games are going to be awesome, and when it's all said and done we'll have a new world champion hoisting the cup in Johannesburg. That's pretty damn cool in my book.

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