Monday, August 17, 2009

Hooligans Make SA Fret about Image

Nothing quite like playing host to a global event to make a country sit up and take stock of itself.

In 1984, Los Angeles got the Summer Olympics, and organizers spent thousands of man-hours working out solutions to unclog the freeways and the city spent millions of dollars building a big, new terminal at the airport, the Bradley Terminal, for international flights.

In 2008, China forced industries all over the country to shut down for three weeks so that the air quality for the Beijing Olympics would be merely bad, instead of the usual "awful."

Even South Africa, with far more limited resources than most nations that put on World Cups and Olympics, is getting into the clean-up-our-house spirit.

The Johannesburg Sunday Times over the weekend wrote an editorial about how "hooligans disgrace SA while the world watches."

Well, actually, the world isn't quite watching yet, aside from the likes of this blog. But it will be, certainly, when we get closer to the 2010 World Cup.

The angst exhibited by the Times in its editorial is understandable. There were ugly scenes at a domestic club match between a team from Cape Town and another from Johannesburg, and hometown fans of the Kaizer Chiefs apparently showered the pitch with bottles and vuvuzelas -- the plastic horns that seem to be a fixture at South Africa soccer matches.

(In the fans' defense ... well, we can't actually defend them ... but we can explain some of their actions by noting that the referee apparently was comically inept. The writer who reported on the game suggests the referee blew time to "end" the first half only 38 minutes into the match.)

South Africa doesn't seem to have experienced hooliganism of the sort that bedeviled Europe for so many years ... with drunken yahoos taking to the streets, brawling with other fans, trashing businesses and terrorizing passengers on public transit.

England, in particular, had serious issues with hooliganism that were investigated in depth in the 1990 book written by an American, "Among the Thugs." This is the book that famously details a hooligan sucking the eyeball out of a police officer's face.

Behavior among British fans of certain teams was so bad that American organizers celebrated when England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, held in the U.S. They figured that keeping England's fans in England was better for the '94 World Cup than whatever economic gain England being in the tournament might have been worth.

That sentiment seemed to be borne out four years later, at the 1998 World Cup in France. After England's first match, English fans rioted after the team's first match, which was held in Marseilles and later came to be known as "The Battle of Marseille" by some elements of the English media.

The French responded with overwhelming security for every remaining match involving the English.

South Africa doesn't seem to have the same sort of deep issues that England and other countries, such as Germany and Holland, have seen. The Times editorial makes a point of noting that the bottles thrown were "empty." The other projectiles mentioned, vuvuzelas, are ubiquitous in part because they are cheap, plastic and weigh just a few ounces.

But when you feel as if your quiet little corner of the world is being examined more closely, it makes you nervous about bad behavior. The Times' editorial fretfully asks, "One wonders whether those overzealous idiots realised that the international soccer showcase is less than 300 days away — and that the whole world is watching our every move."

Well, we will be. And as the editorial notes, if there is a good time for South Africa fans to work on their sportsmanship, this is it.

No comments:

Post a Comment