World Cup University

So earlier this week we did have the 2010 World Cup panel, the one I organized and dubbed “Africa’s World Cup.” It was a great turnout–nice packed room. The Youtube video should be up soon. All the panelists turned: Austin Merrill from Vanity Fair’s Fair Play soccer Blog, Time journalist Tony Karon, and the writers Binyavanga Wainaina and Teju Cole. I kept order. We had a blast and I am going to post the Youtube video of the event early next week.

Meanwhile if you can’t wait for the video and want to get a flavor of the discussion, here‘s a link to a “statement” Mr Cole read as his opening remarks to the panel. Then there’s this wry post by SF on the great soccer blog, The Offside Rules, about proceedings.  SF captures the mood of the event very well.

But enough introductions, here’s SF’s post (I don’t think he’ll mind if I copy it here):

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 NYers 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 pointsAfrica 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.

Mos def. 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.

— Sean Jacobs


4 thoughts on “World Cup University

  1. Interesting. I await the video.
    I think the marginalisation of Africa home leagues ( ie football leagues in Africa) is pity and is probably undermining African national teams. A robust home football league has underpined international strong performances by Egypt – arguably the best team in Africa, with few ‘European’ stars. I suspect that once the current crop of African football stars in Europe are gone there will be miserly pickings from indigenous leagues.

    On a related matter, have you seen today’s article in the British Guardian on the world cup in RSA? Unlike the standard UK media fare on this matter, it hits some hard but fair shots…

  2. would have loved to be there for this talk, looking forward to the video.

    but… i don’t think the idea of the us winning the cup is all that humorous either. actually, i think the us has a better chance of taking the cup than south africa has of getting out of the group stage.

  3. @ the hair dryer treatment: you’re funny and you’ll win you’re bet

    @ebele: up soon

    I saw the Guardian piece. I find that approach to the world cup not very helpful. It misses the point. No one things that money would have gone to housing and ordinary South Africans get the politics and commercial imperatives of the game. They’re not naive.

  4. Really looking forward to this video.

    I’m heading to South Africa for the World Cup… I’m from Canada. My parents lived in Rhodesia in the 1970s and we’re going together. So I’m looking forward to understanding their time there a bit better.

    Great blog BTW!

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