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Cup over, time for Africa just beginning

sports Updated: Jul 13, 2010 00:20 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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Among fond recollections of the 2010 finals, the memory of South African police officer Selby Mosengane will be uppermost on my mind. Mosengane was on duty at the Durban bus station where one night I had gone to see off a friend. We asked him for a place to eat and after pointing to a nearby garage (South African for a small departmental store) he offered to walk us to the place.

"It's my job to see that you people are safe," he said, rejecting our mild protests. Mosengane waited while we ate and walked us back to the bus terminus. Africa's first World Cup worked - about that there is no doubt --- because of the South African people. From the middle-aged woman in Bloemfontein who, seeing five soccer tourists didn't have a place to stay, took them home and made breakfast for them the next day, to the Durban policeman. Crime stayed low and punishment was swift. And now consensus has it that the extra policemen shouldn't go away with the World Cup.

Having proved the naysayers wrong, the World Cup, a news channel said, has improved "business confidence." Mike Tatalias of the South Africa Tourist Services Association said the influx of foreign tourists and their sending good vibes back home has "changed the mind of the average TV viewer worldwide."

And, it has, according to England-based Ghanaian journalist Cameron Doudu, "showed the world that Africa is one continent with one people irrespective of the fact that we have so many different languages, cultures and economic backgrounds." Doudu made this point in the context of how South Africa and the whole continent rallied behind Ghana. Underscoring Doudu's claim was a poster held by Cameroonians that said: "Thank you, Sepp Blatter for trusting us."

It has to be seen whether South Africa can build on this goodwill, this can-do attitude. Tokyo Sexwale, South Africa's minister for human settlements, has mentioned wanting tourists to remember South Africa like Barcelona after the 1992 Olympics.

It will take a lot for them to get there. Barcelona worked really hard to maintain the legacy of the Olympics, but at least a start has been made.

There are concerns about stadiums in Polokwane and Rustenburg becoming white elephants but Soccer City, it seems, is turning to rugby and expecting a full house when the Springboks play here later this year. The World Cup should also boost South African football given that the national federation is expected to get around $77m for development from FIFA. The South African Football Federation is being urged to go the American way in terms of the soccer surge seen in the USA after hosting the 1994 World Cup finals.

For journalist Fred Khumalo, the World Cup "was like a symphonic dream in which you are wallowing in a Turkish bath with nubile women feeding you grapes." That ended as Soccer City emptied on Sunday night after a dazzling display of fireworks. South Africa went back to work on Monday telling visitors Hambani Kahle and Totsiens.

That's goodbye in Zulu and Afrikaans. But the world will be waiting to see what kind of legacy the World Cup leaves on this new republic.