Be it Spain on Sunday or be it The Netherlands, the 2010 World Cup has already won a convincing victory, as they say in sports, and in a big way. Granted, we're dealing with soccer, only soccer. But the implications are much broader, world encompassing.
The choice of South Africa as host of the FIFA World Cup was accompanied from the beginning by deep fears. The various doomsayers warned that the emerging African state, with its new regime, would not be up to such a challenge. They warned that the facilities would not be set up in time, that they would not be constructed properly, that the tournament would be badly organized, and above all, that the numerous guests who came to watch the games would suffer from the host country's widespread crime and violence.
But none of this happened. Three million spectators in the stadia enjoyed a spectacular World Cup, colorful and perhaps a bit noisy, but well organized. No violent incidents occurred on the field of play, and off the field, too, most sports tourists felt completely safe.
Thanks to South Africa, the first African state to organize such a large-scale event, the entire continent can lift its head in pride, perhaps for the first time in its history. Thanks to this World Cup, Black Africa - the world's poorest, most battered, most bleeding continent - has proved that it, too, is finally on the global map. It must therefore be hoped that its shameful obliteration from almost every global issue will come to an end with this excellent World Cup.
The event also proved - not the first time, but more clearly than ever - that sports in general and soccer in particular are unique arenas. Only there can Ghana beat the United States, Serbia beat Germany, Slovenia beat Italy and Algeria tie with England. Where else but on a soccer field can migrants' sons excel in their new country? The teams that reached the final belong to two wealthy European states, but for a state like Uruguay, with its small population and a gross domestic product in 98th place worldwide, even reaching the semifinal commands respect. This could only have happened in soccer.
Hundreds of millions of people watched the games simultaneously throughout the world: No global issue is as unifying as soccer. Parents and children, rich and poor, people of different nationalities, religions, genders and races - all, together, watched television screens across the planet. A world in which a significant proportion of the population watches the same thing at the same time seems, for a moment at least, like a less dangerous, more promising place. And the fact that nationalism did not become violent or pronounced either during the games or after them inspires hope.
The sporting spirit overtook everyone, with no exceptions, winners and losers alike. Not only South Africa rejoiced - as it had rejoiced only once before in its history, with the fall of the brutal apartheid regime - but the whole world rejoiced.
Roger Cohen wrote in his New York Times column that "This is the first magical World Cup." And for good reason. Perhaps the world's statesmen, some of whom attended their teams' matches, will learn from the World Cup that things can be done differently.
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