At "Soccer City" in Soweto
Even in South Africa, I have developed what amounts to a normal routine.
I wake up in the morning around 7:30 a.m., eat breakfast, arrive for work at 9 a.m. In the afternoons I leave work around 4 p.m. and I’m back home by 4:30 or so.
But today something was different.
After returning home from a typical day working at Black Sash, I stepped into my room and flipped on the TV. To my surprise, there wasn’t a soccer match being shown.
The World Cup has been a constant companion during our group’s time here. While we’ve enjoyed following the action, meeting the fans from around the world, and celebrating the success of the national team Bafana Bafana, I think it’s safe to say we’ve had at least some doubts about whether this global spectacle has been a positive influence.
Now we’ve reached the quarterfinals of the competition. Eight teams remain alive and there are only seven games left to be played. This is a rare chance to stop and reflect on the meaning of this commotion without the distant buzzing of vuvuzelas in the background.
For South Africa as a nation there are plenty of issues at stake. FIFA’s decision to allow the world’s largest sporting event to be held in an African nation was monumental. The build-up to the Cup raised plenty of questions, and as my fellow intern Sarah Krueger outlined, many questions still remain.
The impact the World Cup will have on South Africa is one that we have all deliberated over during our time here. It is a question that will be debated endlessly by politicians, economists, and foreign observers for years to come. In addition, the influence this sporting event has had on our DukeEngage is an issue that our group has also discussed.
It had the potential to be a tremendous distraction - think March Madness on a global scale – but I believe we have turned it into a positive force for our program.
The event itself has been a key talking point for several of our guest speakers, many of whom were extremely critical of its effects on the poor, on infrastructure, and on the justice system. The topic is almost unavoidable in conversations about current events and has thus helped bring to light a range of different issues that we have discussed with our guests.
Secondly, our group has found experiences that integrate soccer with society in a meaningful way. We attended the opening of two exhibits that explored social impact of soccer in South Africa, especially in relation to race and poverty. The soccer “kultcha” photography exhibit at the University of Cape Town explored the meaning of the sport in the townships and the Cape Flats. A new exhibit called “Offside” at the District Six museum delved into the relationship between soccer and racism, framing the sport as a force for unity and integration around the world.
To me these two exhibits show how members of our group have worked on projects that, rather than ignore the presence of this massive global event, instead attempt to use the World Cup as a touchstone for constructive dialogue.
I’m proud of the work our group has done relating to the World Cup. We’ve avoided the distracting elements and made the event a part of educational framework. And I know when I look back on my time in South Africa, soccer will be one part of the many incredible learning experiences I’ve had.
That being said, I can’t wait to watch Germany vs. Argentina face off in Cape Town this weekend.