The big idea behind holding the first soccer World Cup in Africa is to change perceptions and prove that Africa, or at least South Africa, is a place and a people as capable as any. With some awesome looking new stadiums, new roads, trains and airports across the country – and a great rock concert in Soweto last night headlined by stars such as the Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and Alicia Keys – there’s a good chance that may happen. But if it doesn’t, I am convinced of the success of a second mission whose existence I have detected in the past few days: send everyone home deaf.
I’m sitting in the stands high above the pitch at Soccer City, the main tournament stadium on the edge of Soweto, the tournament is, what, 35 minutes old, and I’m losing my hearing. As if ninety four thousand fans in the stadium with vuvuzelas – and several million in the streets beyond – weren’t enough, the stadium’s PA system is blasting music louder than last night’s concert, and I just had the South African air force fly three supersonic jets a few hundred feet over my head. There was apparently a request to the crowd not to blow their vuvuzelas during the ceremony, which features plenty of music, but nobody heard it. Now I understand why the touts in the streets outside were mostly selling ear plugs.
As for the opening ceremony, I cannot tell you what it sounds like – or rather I can tell you that it sounds like what you’d hear if you were breeding mosquitos using your ears – but it looks pretty good. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is dancing in the crowd, which is how it should be. We also just had the spectacle of a giant dung beetle pushing a giant soccer ball around the pitch illustrating that, what, soccer is crap? I’d go and ask an official what the real message was, only I wouldn’t be able to hear the answer.