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Short memories in South Africa

For some, the announcement that Russia and Qatar would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was the equivalent of finding a huge, rectangular box that looks like it may contain a flat screen plasma television underneath your Christmas tree, only to open it and find it was a perverted, oversized way of presenting a few pairs of socks.

The English and the Americans, both of whose bids were proved to be two that would guarantee FIFA a profit, had a justifiable reason to be ticked off. The disappointment of the other bidding nations would have been conspicuous only if it was absent, but what sparked such emotions in the rest of the world was curious. There were the allegations of bribery and petrodollars swinging the vote, but rumour will always swirl like dust in the desert when some people are unhappy with an important decision. The sentiment from a particular part of the world - the part that has just pioneered the first African World Cup - was particularly bizarre.

"Russia I can understand. But Qatar? Give me a f**king break," tweeted the chief soccer writer of the biggest daily paper in Johannesburg. "Will it be the first sober WC?" asked the facebook post of a popular radio show host. "How the f**k will they do this?" questioned the twitter account of a television journalist who claims football is one of his favourite sports.

Shame on you, South Africa. Of all the nations in the world who can question another's ability, why you? Is it your way of spitting in the face of those who doubting you? Is it your way of showing you're now part of an elite club and you've earned the right to treat all other host nations with cynicism and contempt? Have you already forgotten what it's like to have to defend yourself at every turn? Is your memory that short? It seems so, so let me remind you.

It was only six years ago, May 15, 2004, when Sepp Blatter pulled your name out of the golden envelope. The countrywide eruption of joy was reported to have almost equalled the feeling on the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison. You had been vindicated. After losing the bid to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, Danny Jordaan had treated defeat with defiance. He encapsulated the fighting spirit you attach to your country and went back, fought the battle again, and emerged triumphant.

Then, the waves of attack began. The world pointed fingers, questioned, doubted, suspected, distrusted and accused. The stadiums could not be built on time, there would be insufficient accommodation, there would be no transport, crime would rule, tourists would be robbed or killed or both. The country would descend into an abyss of chaos and Africa would be proved a dark, dark place indeed.

You had your fair share of real hurdles on top of that: construction worker strikes and delays, a suspected airline collusion to raise ticket prices, the murder of a white supremacist leader two months before the event and the possibility of a race riot. On top of that there was a team that had sunk more than 40 places on the FIFA rankings since it was announced that you host the event, a coach who had left and come back with less than a year to go and an international press that was baying for your blood. But, you did it. Imperfectly, in parts, but the overall event was hailed as success. And after all that, you, South Africa, are now asking how someone else will do it.

The bulk of the South African questioning is aimed at Qatar and its heat, a feeling that is shared around the world. Some may argue that just like South Africa and the crime, Qatar and the heat are two things that cannot be separated. The Qatari bid team assured that they would keep temperatures in the stadiums below 27 degrees Celsius and they would use solar power to ensure a green World Cup.

Those ideas are not going convince people until they get to Qatar in 2022 and experience it, and just like South Africa and crime, Qatar will have to spend the next 12 years defending itself and hoping the correct systems are in place to prove the critics wrong.

Former South African player, Shaun Barlett raised another concern about the Middle East's first World Cup - tradition or lack thereof. "I am concerned about Qatar, where football is not really that big and there is no football culture," he told ESPNsoccernet.

Does it matter? The region as a whole is passionate about the game which is good enough. FIFA has also probably reached a stage where the calibre of the host nation on the field is not as important as the impact taking the game to them will make off the field. Qatar is lowly ranked - at 104th in the world - but have just about an entire generation to get better.

South Africa were not that bad but seem to have forgotten that Bafana Bafana also had no chance of winning the event and, as it drew closer, it also became apparent that if they weren't hosts, they would certainly not have qualified. The purists want 32 deserving teams in the finals, the humanists don't mind one that is there so that there can be a deeper impact that just what happens on the field.

Qatar are hoping the tournament will help change the image of the Middle East, something South Africa should be able to relate closely to. It's a pity many South Africans can't translate that into a show of support for a country that, like them, will be the first in its region to host the event. For now, Qatar enjoys the support of African nations with Arab ties, such Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, and with Islamist roots, like Nigeria. By 2022, maybe South Africa will be convinced too.


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