World Cup University

Expectations are high for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It's led to fervent debates about football and its wider significance.

Kevin Prince Boateng, plays for Ghana. His brother, Jerome, plays for Germany.

Earlier this week I organized a 2010 World Cup panel, “Africa’s World Cup.” It was held at The New School, where I work as an assistant professor in international affairs. It was a great turnout; packed room. It was recorded, so the Youtube video should be up soon. All the panelists turned up: Austin Merrill from Vanity Fair’s Fair Play soccer Blog, Time journalist Tony Karon, as well as the writers Binyavanga Wainaina and Teju Cole.

If you can’t wait for the video and want to get a flavor of the discussion, here‘s a link to a “statement” Cole read as his opening remarks to the panel. In it, Cole revisited the 2009 Under 17 World Cup with his father, who, aware of the criticisms aimed Nigeria’s football federation and possible age cheating by some of its players in collusion with agents and Nigerian football authorities:  “before the tournament, half of the Golden Eaglets team was dropped when the MRI imaging found that they were well over 17 years old.” Despite this setback, “… But the suspicion remained, strengthened by the evidence of our eyes, that the remainder were also men, not boys.” Which is when Cole’s dad quoted an old proverb: “… The person who steals chickens at night and the one who steals it during the day have one thing in common: they both use the same woven basket.”

… “Nigeria are age cheats,” my father said, “but the Swiss, famous for some of the harshest immigration restrictions in the world, have been generous in giving citizenships to Brazilian, Turkish, Ghanaian and Croatian boys. It’s a scam with documents, the Nigerian one is undocumented. So, who is the real cheat?” …

Then there was this wry post by SF on the great soccer blog, The Offside Rules, about the panel.  SF captures the mood of the event very well and I don’t he’ll mind if we copy his post below.

Yesterday I went to college. Or to a college I should say. There was a panel discussion entitled Africa’s World Cup at The New School here in Manhattan that sounded crushingly academic but kind of like soccer nerd heaven so I gave up my afternoon to it. So did about 25 other [New Yorkers] of all stripes who braved the gauntlet of co-eds in summer dresses to show up as well.

Hosted by Sean Jacobs, assistant professor at the graduate program in international affairs, the panel included Time magazine senior editor Tony Karon, Austin Merrill of Vanity Fair’s Fair Play blog and writers Binyavanga Wainaina and Teju Cole. Aside from Austin all of the panelist hailed from the The Place Formerly Known As The Dark Continent™ and brought some very unique perspectives on the upcoming World Cup.

There was so much ground covered over the 2+ hours of discussion that it’s almost impossible to concoct anything bordering on a complete recap but here’s a few interesting bullet points

Africa is being presented almost as a country, not a continent, by advertisers. Check out recent ads by Puma and Coca-Cola and you could almost get the idea that a multitude of country’s are hosting the event, not just South Africa.

Very few Africa-based players will actually participate in the first World Cup to be held on the continent. Most of the African teams will field a side made up of players who ply their trade in Europe.

Drogba is dam near a God in Africa; dirty dude has even inspired a genre of dance music called “Drogbacite” in West Africa.

African club football is screwed. It’s easier for people to keep up with Euro soccer than local leagues because it’s on free TV; imagine how much harder it would be to sell people MLS on FSC if the EPL, La Liga and Serie A were available on NBC, CBS and ABC.

Loads of brainy soccer humor from this bunch. You know you are nestled firmly amongst the football intelligentsia when the entire room is ROTFL to jokes whose punchlines center on a player being Andalusian, Basque or Catalan.

But no matter how connected to soccer these people are, by and large they don’t appear to be connected to American soccer at all. Not the Africans, not the Americans, not the African-Americans. When one person mentioned the U.S. team the room let out a collective laugh that is probably still echoing around the room 24 hours later; it’s always depressing when people so passionate and knowledgeable are so dismissive.

Only one snag: SF misrepresents our feelings about US soccer. It is not true that we were dismissive of US soccer. The belly laughs only happened after Mr Cole had suggested the US national team would win the World Cup. Even SF has to agree that’s funny.

UPDATE: The video of the event is now live.

Further Reading

A private city

Eko Atlantic in Lagos, like Tatu City in Nairobi, Kenya; Hope City in Accra, Ghana; and Cité le Fleuve in Kinshasa, DRC, point to the rise of private cities. What does it mean for the rest of us?

What she wore

The exhibition, ‘Men Lebsa Neber,’ features a staggering collection of the clothes and stories of rape survivors across Ethiopia.