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The SAN’s Pulpit: The World Cup: Its implication for human rights

By Awa Kalu

The world cup has come again as it does every four years. I am a sports fan, particularly of football, tennis and basketball, in that order. Without doubt, the world cup provides opportunities in several directions including the opportunity to observe humanity in close proximity or from television or other media.

The world cup is reaching billions of ardent football fans through the internet and even High Definition media. There are viewing centres where those who do not have the privilege of being at the live venues can aggregate and enjoy exceptional conviviality and partake in the kind of disputation only a football match can produce. Was a particular player offside? Was a penalty real or a dive or a simulation from a particular player? Was the linesman or referee seeing double?

These dimensions are only available in the company of like-minded spectators. The spectacle provided by this mega event is always breathtaking and unimaginable. At the beginning of the 2006 edition, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, said, “we are looking forward to guests from every corner of the earth and we want to celebrate a great festival with them, peacefully and joyfully”. Indeed, there was plenty to celebrate in Germany.

However, South Africa appears to have much more to offer having regard to what has already unfolded. The music and cultural extravaganza which the tournament organizers held to herald the world cup on the eve of the opening day of the fiesta was a testament to the vitality of the African spirit and perhaps, epitomised the resurgence of post apartheid South Africa. Bishop Desmond Tutu offered a disguised insight into this new spirit when he shouted the name of Africa’s living legend, the ‘Maddiba’ Nelson Mandela, several times to the adoration, adulation and loud cheers from the fans. The triumphant entry of the South African President, side by side with Sepp Blatter, FIFA President offered so much to think about.

Life offers so many opportunities and possibilities. Only a few years ago, South Africa had no affiliation to FIFA having been banned for human rights violations arising from the notorious Apartheid policy. Similarly, the prospect of a white man walking side by side in great camaraderie in those years of Apartheid was remote. This is the reason that has prompted this column, which is devoted to legal and human rights matters but on this occasion beaming its searchlight on the South African World Cup – the first of its kind on African soil. You are entitled to assume that for this article or any other in this column to be relevant to the overall theme of law and human rights, it must establish some nexus or sufficiency of relevance within that very broad spectrum.

An attempt will therefore be made to demonstrate, however feebly or tangential, that the month-long celebration of football fantasy in several stadia in different fun cities of South Africa is not altogether alien or unrelated to general notions of law and human rights. Perhaps, a convenient starting point would be to draw attention to the ongoing debate about the awesome noise level rising to several decibels generated by the very popular vuvuzela that so many experts have claimed is nothing but a health hazard to several sports fans. The protest led to calls in opposing quarters for FIFA to ban or at least restrain the use of the noise-generating vuvuzela during matches. The same protest accompanied the trumpets that indicate the presence of the Super Eagles Supporters Club at any competition. Can sports really be divorced from noise? If the happiness level is high, if celebration is to be cherished, can we abolish or ameliorate noise when over eighty thousand fans are enjoying a game?

The right to freedom of assembly and of association is the hallmark of democracy, more so, in the emerging democracies of Africa. Time was, when the only occasion for a large crowd in separate parts of Africa was to register a protest of some sort. The vuvuzela is central to different sports in South Africa. It is not very clear whether a person who brings himself or herself, as the case may be, to a stadium where a football game, at the highest level is being played, can complain about noise. If there are no vuvuzelas, there will be drums, if there are no drums, there will be trumpets and at any rate, voice levels are ordinarily very high in such situations.

As a general rule, the law does not aid a volunteer and as lawyers are wont to do if expressed in latin, this means volenti non fit injuria. Further to the foregoing, I had argued in the aftermath of the 2006 World Cup that ‘It cannot be forgotten that football, as a game, is about enforceable rules of physical and emotional engagement on a level playing field. For a start, the spectacle of Zinedine Zidane, celebrated captain of France in the concluded world cup, a player crowned three times as world footballer of the year, soul of the French team, leaving the pitch after he was red-carded (for a head butt against Italian player Marco Materazzi) epitomizes rule enforcement and unquestioning obedience to law.

The subsequent confirmation that Materazzi had given Zidane cause for retaliation, perhaps, brings to the fore the defence of provocation. Zidane now claims that close members of his family were insulted and that he had to be a man first-perhaps, a veiled reference to our inalienable right, in appropriate circumstances, to act in defence of self, family or even property. What about the question of guilt and punishment? A few days after Zidane was famously red-carded, he granted an interview in which he said he had no regrets about head-butting Materazzi even though he apologized to all children who watched his misdemeanour. (Football also caters for the interests of children just as our laws).

He did not feel guilty nor did he think he deserved to be punished. In his words, “the one who is really guilty must be punished”. In law, this is correct. Perhaps, it even throws up our familiar right to defend our reputation. Football is also about yellow cards, free kicks, warnings and other forms of punishment for minor and major infractions of rules of the game. It is about the outpouring of emotion, celebration of love, style and culture; exhibition of skills and the ultimate exercise of the freedom of expression. Demonstrably, football at world cup level is now an index of who you are, of everyday existence, a veritable tool for the liberation of our spirits, a test of national character and indeed, a major vehicle for fixing our identity permanently on the world map.

If you doubt the potency of football, ask your football fan about Trinidad and Tobago, Togo or Brazil. When Brazil are playing, you see the totality of their being, their culture on display. ‘Samba’ is a brand of football and I think, a national identity as well as an ideology”. That observation was made in 2006 but is still relevant with the ongoing competition. This is clearly borne out by the fact that Nigeria and Cameroon were absent from the 2006 competition. Algeria did not also feature. Were it possible to gauge the feelings of self esteem of citizens of the participating countries, only then would it really dawn on us that the world cup is no child’s play.

In that connection, it is necessary to recall that in the aftermath of the 2006 world cup, TIME, the international news magazine (July 17, 2006) quoted Edgar Wolfram, a historian at Hildelberg University as noting that “That cup became a liberating symbol that allowed (Germans) to express something that they’ve always wanted to express. This is the first time young people have come out and identified with the German flag and the national anthem”. Is this not the same today in South Africa? Your answer must be in the affirmative unless you did not watch the opening ceremony.

For you to see the casual connection between football and human rights, you may want to look up the definition of human rights and you will see the elasticity. For instance, a major commentator and author on human rights, Professor Osita Eze has argued that “irrespective of where and when human rights are discussed there is hardly any agreement as to their meaning or scope. What is clear is that human rights, as legal rights, are those guaranteed by positive law within a given legal system creating enforceable rights and obligations within the law. But there also exist moral or social rights which when not guaranteed by law are not strictly legal rights”. (See African Concept of Human Rights in Perspectives on Human Rights, p. 9).

Guided by this definition, within the purview of the rights to privacy, freedom of assembly and association guaranteed by the constitution, it can be argued that an individual has a right to play or watch football either for leisure or in furtherance of a career. Again, within the framework of rules stipulated by FIFA, any of the affiliate members may acquire a vested right to host the world cup or any of the other competitions organised by that body. The rotational system now adopted by FIFA, the global football governing body, has guaranteed South Africa (a pride to Africa) the right to host the ongoing fiesta.

By way of confession, this piece was originally inspired or prompted by televised epic scenes of celebration and jubilation by Italian fans at the end of the final of the 2006 edition. Besides, each of the games in each world cup sparks a frenzy of celebration by the winning side and doom and gloom from the losers.

As a matter of fact, the expectant faces of those fans in 2006 who echoed in unison “See you in South Africa”, made it imperative that a comment or two be made about the monumental impact of the world cup on our lives. You only need to examine the faces of the fans in the stands to confirm that this indeed is a festival of unrivalled proportions. After all, I have overheard some comments about families staying together during the world cup even if most males were in segregation all through, of the cessation of robberies in most major cities, and of peace and tranquillity after each game.
Even the boom in the sale of alcoholic beverages and other items for entertainment are redeeming attributes that enhance the quality of life and improve the quality of life of several partakers in this monumental endeavour. Who says the right to life enshrined in the constitution is only about being free to stay alive without being killed except in circumstances permitted by law? The right to life is also about a clean environment, a right to qualitative and gainful employment.


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