CBC Sports

Into Africa: More than just a game

Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009 | 11:36 AM

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It’s easy to be cynical about big time sport these days.

After all, an Arizona judge has just melted Hamilton’s hockey dreams.

Former slugger Sammy Sosa, it turns out, is a drug cheat while another baseball star, Mel Hall, has been sentenced to 45 years in prison for rape.

But take heart.

At soccer’s Confederations Cup in South Africa there’s something really good surrounding “the beautiful game.”

South Africa will be the host of the 2010 World Cup, a landmark occurrence in a country, which has endured so much racial strife under the oppression of apartheid. It will be the largest foray into sport ever on the African continent. The Confederations Cup is meant to be the dry run for next year’s main event and features eight of the world’s top soccer nations.

It was heartening to see 62,000 in the stands of Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium on opening day as the host South Africans took on Iraq. Back in Baghdad, millions watched their beloved champions on giant screens in public squares, a first in that devastated soccer-loving country since the American invasion of 2003.

Meantime, the South African side featured a solitary white player cheered on by a vast majority of black supporters - a signal that change for the better had become reality.

Add to that the appearance in other matches of many of the world’s top talents like Fernando Torres of European powerhouse Spain, Brazil’s brilliant midfielder Kaka, and a bevy of stars from the reigning World Cup champions of Italy.

Not long ago South Africa was forbidden territory for international sport. But before kickoff, the country’s president, Jacob Zuma, erased the memories with one statement.

“It is not a day for speeches,” Zuma said. “It is a day for us to enjoy the game.”

Just when you’re about to give up on sport it can surprise you, proving once again that it has substantial power beyond its fields of play.

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