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Memories of the World Cup: sights and sounds

It’s all over, and the best team won. Spain, consistently the world’s outstanding football side over the past few years, took home the trophy. Holland came to the final playing kung-fu rather than soccer, and deservedly went home empty handed. And so it’s over. I already see many bereft people in a sorry state every day at 5.00 pm – life appears to have lost meaning.

We all watch the World Cup for the lessons in management and leadership that can be gleaned, do we not? You don’t? You watch it just for the football, you say? How bizarre. Well, never mind, you have me to recount the supposed deeper meaning for you. In footballing tradition, I will treat you to a game of two halves: this week, we look at some of the tournament’s highs and lows; next week, we will examine the lessons for our own organisations.

As the whistle blows for kick-off, let us send warm congratulations to our hosts for the past few weeks: South Africa. Africa’s biggest economy did us all proud. It did all the things that all the afro-pessimists said could not be done: it designed and created stadia as good as any in the world; it managed the logistics of a hideously complex event; it administered a remarkable security operation that prevented any major crime incidents from tainting the tournament.

And the closing ceremony before last Sunday’s final was a sight to behold. Like many Africans, my heart sang as I watched beautifully choreographed dance performances done on a virtual canvas of projected computer imagery. Some might think it a colossal waste of money, but these things are necessary for Africa’s self-confidence. As that monumental sound-and-light show unrolled before our eyes, many must have thought: Africa was not thus.

On the other hand, much as I would love to, I cannot ignore that new instrument that suddenly entered the global lexicon: the vuvuzela. This long trumpet, we were told, is authentically African, the sound of the savanna, of celebration, of fervour.

Um…I wish I could believe that. All I saw (and heard) was a long piece of plastic that emits a single note (B-flat, if you’re interested). Singly, it sounds like a buffalo breaking wind; collectively, like a demented swarm of bees. If those sounds are musical to your ears, then you need to spend more time with real musicians. The vuvuzela, far from enhancing the first World Cup held on African soil, came close to ruining it. For once, I was very grateful to be reclining before a TV hundreds of kilometres away, rather than sitting in a stadium being deafened by the same note being blasted incessantly into my ears by tens of thousands of anti-musicians.

I can only imagine what any genuine football lover felt surrounded by vuvuzelas. Players could not hear themselves communicate, and the chants and songs that usually enliven football games were drowned out. There was no ebb and flow of emotional support, just a single, steady, loud klaxon sound.

Culture, eh? If this is our culture, we should dump it. Straight red card. Who made money out of the vuvuzelas? Why, the Chinese, of course. China’s factories quickly churned out more than a million of the misbegotten trumpets, and cleaned up at the World Cup – without having to send a team there. Is this not the story of Africa, people? That we export our best things (footballers in this instance) so that others can make money out of them; and import all the worst things (cheap trumpets), also so that others can make money out of them?

And then there were the adverts. The World Cup is boom time for advertising, and we see the same adverts so many times that we are forced to memorise them. Many shown across Africa on Supersport were witty and vibrant, but some I wish I had never watched. Like all those soap ads that seemed to take me back to the 1970s when I was a boy, showing women in suds seemingly in rapturous love with their soap bars. I thought things had moved on, ad gurus? And the less said about that rum advert, the better…

One advertisement did grab my attention. It showed famous African footballers standing in freezing European football fields looking miserable and homesick, and then flying home to be greeted by dazzling sunshine and elated crowds, bursting into the stadium to play for ‘Africa United.’ If only. The truth is rather different. Many of those African greats play outstanding games for their European clubs and earn huge revenues for them. But not one of them made a dent on this tournament when back on African soil, sunshine or not. They exited early, and slipped back to their chosen workplaces in far-off lands. That remains the African reality, and we can’t wish it away with advertising.

But now I hear my editor’s shrill whistle for half-time. See you here for the second half, next Sunday morning.

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