While American baseball gets into full swing in the States and talks of NFL and NBA drafts flood ESPN and other sports media outlets, I can already hear the rumbles and cheers escaping South Africa like the booming thunder of a herd of elephants fleeing a pride of lions.
Except this thundering herd is not a bunch of elephants. Rather, cities across the southern most African nation are gearing up to host one of the world's most talked-about and most watched sporting events.
Teams spanning the globe will travel to play in one of the nine hosting cities in South Africa, ranging from the southwestern, ocean-side, tourist hot spot Cape Town, to the northeastern, mountainous, tourist stopover Nelspruit. These 32 teams, some of the best in the world, have created more publicity and rallied more countries than ever before, bringing some much-needed attention to not only the sport of soccer, but also to the host country.
I say "some of the best in the world" because I think that there is at least one team that Federation Internationale de Football Assocaition (FIFA) snubbed big time: Ireland. I may be a bit biased since I witnessed firsthand the international passion for World Cup soccer when I was abroad in Ireland.
After a heartbreaking loss to France in Dublin, Ireland battled back, scoring on aggregate in Paris, only to have its World Cup dreams blown up in its face faster than an Irish car bomb from the IRA. Thierry Henry, celebrated FC Barcelona and French national team striker, handed himself the title as one of the most hated soccer players of all time when he controlled the ball with his hand before kicking it over to Arsenal defender and French national team member, William Gallas, who headed it into the goal.
Swedish referee Martin Hansson and his assistant saw no offense as the Irish faithful cried out the world over. Fans immediately demanded a rematch, or at the very least, official use of instant replay so that soccer could have the same advantages as almost every other sport in the world, hopefully preventing another "Hand of God" incident, made famous by former Argentine national team captain Diego Maradona during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal match against England, which England lost 2-1.
That's what I'm talking about: There is no other sport in the world that generates such a passionate, spirited and fiery love of one's country. The World Cup is to the rest of the world as the Olympics are to the United States. To me, it seems like the rest of the world gets hyped up more for the World Cup than the U.S., but that could just be because of my untrained eye for soccer.
Is it because, for the most part, the rest of the world is enamored and much better at soccer than the States? Probably. Regardless of international prowess, the rest of the world deserves its time in the sun, and I am so happy that South Africa, the first African country to host the Cup, gets to bask in the warmth of international stardom.
I visited South Africa during the summer before my senior year of high school, coincidentally only a few weeks after World Cup 2006, when Italy defeated France 5-3. The country was already bustling to prepare to host a mass influx of visitors, four years in advance, and two years after FIFA announced the 2010 host country. While I certainly was not a soccer aficionado by any means, I definitely understood the importance of South Africa being the first African nation to host this storied international sporting event.
No continent on Earth deserves this more than Africa. This isn't a pity-party, rather, the people of Africa - from all walks of life - simply enjoy the sport in its purest form. From happy children playing in the dusty streets to the proud players on the national teams from Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and of course, South Africa I believe no other continent of people on Earth enjoys soccer more for what it is: a game everyone can play outside with minimal supplies.
If South Africa successfully hosts an estimated 2.2 million fans (and those are the ones who have already purchased tickets to matches) during the biggest sporting event of the year, then I think there are high hopes for an African city Olympic bid in the future.
Millions more will watch matches on TV, either crowded around one television set in rural South Africa, or spaciously seated in the comfort of one's home in urban England. The triumphant cheer and pride of the winning side will overpower the lugubrious anguish and sorrow of the losing side in every single match as teams inch closer to the final with the hopes of their home country encouraging and empowering them to the world's greatest victory.
To any internationals reading, congratulations on the intense support and love for the sport of soccer. I think that our lack of American allegiance to any one particular sport blows our credibility when determining which sport is truly "America's pastime." Nations all over the world have shown through years of fervent support and zeal of the sport that soccer reigns supreme.
And to my fellow Americans, I urge you to spend some time this summer following not only the U.S. in the World Cup, but pick an international team to root for. Whether you choose a perennial powerhouse or a budding underdog, you won't be disappointed with the entertainment value (bonus points from me if you choose an underdog . . . I've got the Ivory Coast as my Cinderella team).
As summer descends upon us, don't forget about the World Cup. The rest of the world certainly won't forget about it - it only happens every four years. South Africa continues to soar higher with publicity, especially after the movie about South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup win, "Invictus," which premiered last December. And, if you're a frequent visitor of fratmusic.com, then you surely have heard K'naan's single, "Wavin' Flag," the 2010 World Cup theme song.
Follow K'naan's lyrics as a model on how to approach the 2010 World Cup. His lyrics embody what the World Cup is all about: pride for your country through the sport of soccer.
Contact sports editor Amelia Vogler at firstname.lastname@example.org