By Paul Bassey
The count down is on. I believe it is a co-incidence that the last friendly matches preparatory to the World Cup should be in the frame of what is now the 100 days count down to the World Cup. What is not a coincidence is that the organisers of the World Cup have lined up series of programmes aimed at bringing home the reality of an event that is still a subject of doubt in the western media.
I have had to ask myself, what else will South Africa do to convince the world that it is not only ready, but capable of hosting and hosting well, the World Cup? The latest incident in the sceptic merry go round was the attempt to link the Angola incident involving Togo with South Africa, a country three hours away by air, not even neighbours at that.
The count down is on, one hundred days to the first World Cup on African soil. For Nigerians, some Nigerians, the signs are ominous for a country that is yet, literally to start its World Cup programmes. I have had to argue at a different forum that we do not even have the luxury of three months. The World Cup, for all the teams, is just three weeks away.
It is in three weeks that the players will be released by the clubs to head to their various camps. It is in three weeks that the coaches will have the benefit of working with full squads. It is in three weeks that a country will be required to plan and win the World Cup.
The count down, therefore, has nothing to do with the readiness of the teams, rather it tends to sensitise us to the greatest single sport spectacle on earth. And in this wise, the South Africans can be assured of my vote. The South Africans have so woven life round the World Cup that long after the competition had gone, ( just one month) the legacy that will be left behind will be awesome.
As anchor person of the MTN World Cup Programme, there is a segment called FIFA FEVER that highlights life in South Africa outside the field of play. This segment has so far exposed me not only to the benefits of the popular game called football, but also to the massive legacy that can be bequeathed to generations yet unborn. I know Nigeria is yet to host any competition in the magnitude of the World Cup, yet the few we have hosted I may not be able to point at any tangible left over especially as it impacts on the life of the citizenry. A few examples.
Less than a week ago, I saw the turning of the sod of a grass root project that is expected to cost over 22 million dollars. When completed, among other things, there will be not less than 52 artificial turfs scattered all over South Africa.
I quote â€œYesterday saw the launch of South Africaâ€™s biggest grassroots football development programme â€” the construction of the 1st Football Turf of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa Legacy Project
This is the first of 52 Football Turfs â€” one in each of the SAFA Regions â€” which will be built as part of this project. Most of the sites identified to date are in the most rural areas of South Africaâ€™s provinces and will lay the basis of transforming football across the country.
The Holy Family Combined School, where 1000 children from the Mogwase go to further their education, was chosen as the first site for the project because of its history of academic and cultural achievement which has seen them maintain a 100 per cent pass rate for the last four years.
To date the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund has committed 170.1 million rand to build 27 football turfs for the 2010 FIFA Legacy Project. This is the biggest project that the National Lottery has funded in sport since its inception.
This commitment has allowed for the selection of the first 9 sites â€” one in each province. A further two sites per province will then be identified. Following this, and contingent on additional funding, the remaining sites will be identified until all 52 sites have been developed.
â€œFor the first time in their lives, thousands of our footballers across our country will be able to play the game they love on a decent football surface and this can only bode well for the quality of football and footballers that will be produced from this project.
Each of the clubhouses will be equipped with a small education centre with computers where education, life-skills, leadership and health programmes will be conducted as part of a youth or community development programme. We call on these communities to take pride and ownership of these facilities, to look after them and to ensure that they are utilized to their benefit,â€ said Danny Jordaan. CEO LOC FIFA World Cup.
I can go on and on.
Soth Africa has also used the widely accepted platform of football to fight diseases such as AIDS and Tuberculosis. Again let me make reference to the FIFA website.
â€œThis yearâ€™s FIFA World Cup in South Africa will present the world with a unique opportunity and platform to mount the fight against malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and HIV as well as other health threats to the African continent and in the game of football.
So said chairman of the FIFA Medical committee and FIFA executive member, Michel Dâ€™Hooghe, at the start of the third International Football Medicine Conference in Sun City, South Africa. He further urged delegates to work together in facilitating the programmes to combat such diseases and look closer at injuries.
About 300 sports physicians, physiotherapists and the team physicians of the 32 participating teams are gathering at the majestic and breathtaking Sun City to discuss recommendations on how to prevent injuries and improve the well-being of players.
Dâ€™Hooghe said it was important that African football be the biggest benefactor during and after the 2010 FIFA World Cup. â€œWe must use this FIFA World Cup to fight the big three in Africa. We have to fight against malaria, TB and HIV.
Those issues have to be fought hard as to help improving the standards of the game in Africa. We are here to learn about Africa, we have to listen to practitioners from this continent and see how best we can exchange ideas for the better of the game.
â€œWe have a strong delegation from all over the African continent and the world including representatives from the 32 participating teams,â€ explained Dâ€™Hooghe. â€œThis means that most of the relevant stakeholders are here. We are trying to bring knowledge to the game, to communicate and discuss the implementation of ideas because it is no good having all the ideas without a good implementation plan.â€
FIFA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jiri Dvorak, said the conference comes at an important period as Africa prepares for its biggest moment in sport history. He emphasised the importance of using the knowledge acquired during the conference to improve lives of footballers and the standard of the game. â€œOur biggest goal is to minimise injuries in football.
People have to realise that football is a safe sport,â€ Dvorak said. â€œThe FIFA World Cup is the best opportunity to present football to the world. We have to show that we care for the health of players and improve the standard of the care.â€
It was also in South Africa that I saw Mercedes Benz donating a state of the art bus to the Bafana Bafana and it made me wonder whether sponsorship is defined in relation to locality. Add to that my ignorance about the couturier that is ready to roll out Eagles World Cup suits, moving from the concrete to the ephemeral. When my son saw Manchester United players arriving for a league game all suited up with ties to match, he asked which Nigerian club does like wise.
I said that though I once saw Kaduna United in suits, I can forgive the clubs but that our national team has no record of corporate appearance.
The count down is on. I bet the South Africans have a lot of other packages up their sleeve and as you are reading this, I am off to Jo’burg to be part of the historic programme.
That lecture on Slattery
The Very Reverend Dennis Joseph Slattery, founder of the all conquering Saint Finbarrs College, Akoka, was at various times football referee, chairman of the NFA and above all an educationist. Last Friday, the Old Boys of the school held a lecture in his honour, to discuss the falling standard of education in Nigeria and the way forward.
Characteristically, it was the sports history of the school that stole the limelight. Mrs. Tayo Orewenme, who stood in for the Sports Minister and Chairman National Sports Commission set the ball rolling when she, in an eloquent speech reminded us of the contributions of Saint Finbarrs College to the sports history of the country.
Like Otunba Anthony Odugbesan (Old Boys President) before her, she reeled out Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Henry Amike, Nduka Ugbade, Samson Siasia,Â Steven Akiga, Paul Bassey (yes yours truly) as some of those who had contributed to the sports development of the country.
It was nostalgic sitting in the new multi purpose hall, a venue I had held sway for a year, as the food and dining hall prefect.
See you next week.