Opportunity in Africa at its first World Cup

The first World Cup in Africa is bound to spotlight the big challenges on the continent. But it's also an opportunity for Africans to be inspired, to better connect to the world and with each other.

On June 11, the world’s poorest continent (Africa) will host for first time the world’s most popular sporting event (the World Cup).

For one month, 32 teams will play “the beautiful game” of soccer (or football) in South Africa. Televised across the globe, the matches will help Africa celebrate its steady progress as well as put a spotlight on its big challenges, from AIDS to graft.

(For a Monitor story on Sunday's World Cup stampede, click here, and for a story on how South Africa will fight Cup workers' fears of xenophobic violence, click here.)

Few in Africa can afford travel to the games or the $71 tickets (or buy one over the Internet with a credit card). As a result, only about 2 percent of Cup spectators are expected to be from other African nations.

Still, by simply watching this huge quadrennial event on television, young Africans may be inspired to master the sport, and then perhaps be hired abroad by a commercial team. The more Africans can connect to the rest of the world, the better.

They might also use this temporary focus on them to find more unity among themselves – just as hosting the Olympics often brings a country together. No African team is expected to advance far in the matches, but all Africans can take pride if the event goes well.

South Africa has spent $5 billion to make sure it does. It has built or refurbished stadiums and upgraded airports and roads.

And by hosting the Cup 16 years after the end of white rule, South Africa also wants to use the event to further unite the races in this “rainbow nation.” The timing for holding the Cup in Africa is appropriate. This year marks the 50th anniversary of independence for 17 of the continent’s 53 nations. Just as soccer has become more global, so too has Africa.

Perhaps within the next 50 years, African teams can be winning this most coveted of sports trophies.

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