Saturday, May 8, 2010

Yankees Go Home! Obama Stay Home!

Not sure I can remember this happening, before a World Cup. A government official of high standing saying in a very public setting that his fondest wish is for a specific team to go home after the first round.

But that is what happened in South Africa on Friday.

South Africa's police commissioner said he hopes the United States is eliminated in group play. He wants the Yankees gone. Because it will make his job easier. Or maybe he doesn't like them, either.

This is remarkably bad form. Who knows what sort of ideas it puts in the heads of referees, for example? Who knows how it impacts how the U.S. team is treated by fans, by hoteliers, by officialdom, now that South Africa's top cop has singled out the Americans for "please leave" treatment.

If you didn't follow the link, here are the key statements made by Gen. Bheki Cele at a public parliamentary committee meeting:

"Our famous prayer is that the Americans don't make the second round. They get eliminated and they go home."

Presumably, that's mostly about the threat that American athletes always face when abroad. Targets of terror threat and all. The local cops have to put on a few extra men when the Americans are around. Hire some food-tasters. Etc. It's so tiresome, making sure your country is secure.

But some of this, the General indicated, is about the difficulties that would be presented by the arrival of U.S. president Barack Obama -- which could happen if the Americans get to the knockout phase.

The good general doesn't want to deal with Obama in the country.

Said Cele: "One challenge is the American president, who is coming, not coming, coming, not coming. It's 50-50 as we stand."

He added: "We are told if they go to the second or third stage, the American president might come. It's one big challenge that we will be facing." He also said that 43 heads of state will be going to South Africa next month, but that Obama would be a much bigger problem. "Those (other) 43 will be equal to this one operation," he said of the chore of keeping an eye on safety of the U.S. president.

I'm trying to remember any public pronouncements from organizers or host-country officials about their preferences for who advances and who does not. Ever.

And coming up empty.

The only vaguely similar concept I recall was a sentiment expressed by the chief organizer of the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.

Alan Rothenberg readily conceded that he was relieved when England was defeated in qualifying. The big difference being, Rothenberg made the statement after England was out of the running.

His concern was over the fans that would come with the English team; 1994 was not far past the peak of English soccer hooliganism. Rothenberg said it would require more money and manpower to keep England's thuggish fans from tearing up whatever city they happened to be in. (The violence and mayhem of the sort they perpetrated after a match in Marseille in the 1998 World Cup in France.)

I am certain he didn't say it while England was still in the running.

Rothenberg also may have been happy that Iran didn't qualify, as well as North Korea (each of which played in the famous six-nation Asian qualifying tournament at Doha, Qatar, in October of 1993 but failed to advance), but I have no recollection of that being enunciated. Perhaps assumed but not confirmed.

This is something new. A police chief telling us a month before the tournament that he wants one team gone, gone, gone.

Perhaps we can assume, then, that when the cops on the U.S. team's security detail tell the Yanks, "Break a leg!" ... they will be speaking literally.

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