This week, I happened upon an old boarding
pass stuck on the bottom of one of my bags and it hit me that it was
exactly one year ago when I stepped off of a peaceful flight to Johannesburg
and straight into the maddeningly gorgeous fervor of the World Cup -
a veritable global party that goes far beyond soccer, connecting people
of different colors, mindsets, and ideals so seamlessly that it's sad it only happens once every four years.
Though I was aware
of how fortunate I was to be part of the fanfare at the time, it was only now while looking back that I realize I was also in the
midst of a most positive revolution that most believed to
be impossible. I was witnessing a piece of history. Everyone said
South Africa couldn't do it; it's a beautiful thing when you can
prove someone wrong.
It's hard for anyone to believe the sheer magnitude of the World Cup's influence around the planet, especially if you're American. Growing up with a Portuguese father who fully believed that soccer, in fact, is life, I had a bit of an insider's advantage by default, and I've been carrying on a love affair with the sport, and with South Africa, for quite some time.
As fate would have it, the two were drawn together in the 2010 World Cup, and thus I was drawn to it. For years leading up to the 2010 World Cup, a circle of perpetual doubt emerged - those who bet money on the assumption that South Africa would never be ready, the stadiums wouldn't be complete, the logistics would be convoluted, and the service would be subpar.
Yet here we are, one year later looking at a nation with one of the
most successful global events on record under its belt, increasing
tourism volumes, a healthier economic state, a strengthened currency,
rich cultural explorations, culinary wonders, and five-star hotels.
Cape Town was recently voted #1 city in the world by Trip Advisor readers,
and South Africa now proudly holds the title of the Most Valuable African
Nation Brand. Not bad for a country that had to fight just for
the benefit of the doubt.
South Africa's own success story
from struggle and division to forgiveness and tolerance is far too inspiring to be as overlooked as it often is. Yet,
via its impressive show on a global stage, South Africa proved that indeed "we all can just get along."
Along the streets, in the bars and restaurants, throughout hotel lobbies and shopping malls, the revelers were out en masse day and night... into day. Screaming out scores, proudly wearing their team jerseys, bantering about the day's match outcomes and exchanging jovial jibes followed by laughter and the clinking of glasses. Japanese with Serbians, Ghanaians and Mexicans, Brazilians and Americans, Portuguese and Spanish all speaking the common universal language of soccer.
As for the host country, there was the consistent, inspiring display of millions of South Africans from all backgrounds and walks of life banding together in their yellow Bafana Bafana jerseys in the stadiums, in the fan parks, and in the most run-down townships where TVs barely eked out a connection, chanting together and cheering in absolute unison.
or a moment, neither
winning nor losing mattered. Rather, tolerance and acceptance
did. It prevailed, and thus a nation grew leaps and bounds in
the span of a few weeks, and the passionate display of patriotic unity was
a monumental lesson to the world.
My dear Brazil, you have a tough act to follow.