Tomorrow afternoon, many thousands of millions of people around the world will briefly turn their gaze towards Durban, and wonder what kind of country will stage the Fifa World Cup in 2010.
This intense global spotlight will be focused on the occasion of the Preliminary Draw, when many of the 204 entering countries will be drawn into a series of regional qualifying groups, which over the next two years will be played out in every corner of the planet and eventually produce the 31 national teams to participate in the showpiece tournament from June 11 to July 11, 2010.
South Africa qualify automatically as hosts … “which, given the recent form of Bafana Bafana,” runs the most overused line of this weekend’s jamboree, “is just as well”.
Now it may well be the case that many of these many thousands of millions of observers will glance towards the foot of Africa for just the few seconds required to see who their respective national teams will play in qualifying; as the lip-licking P.W. Botha used to say what seems a million years ago, that is the reality.
However, many will also observe at least part of the all-singing, all-dancing musical show arranged to accompany the actual draw; and, from what they glimpse, they will form an important first impression of the frequently perplexing, often intoxicating, never ever dull country that may have drifted to the periphery of the international agenda but now returns fleetingly to centre stage.
The voiceover will bellow: “Africa is the theatre and South Africa is the stage. We intend, on behalf of our continent, to stage an event that will send ripples of confidence from the Cape to Cairo, an event that will send out a call to the rest of the world: an African dawn.”
Hello, Africa. Cue Simba and Nala.
Prepared by the Local Organising Committee, the entertainment will include a live performance by the current Johannesburg cast of The Lion King, the musical with songs written by composer Elton John (a 60-year-old English pop singer, composer and pianist) and lyricist Tim Rice (a 63-year-old Englishman). The original animated feature film telling the tale of the young lion Simba and his girlfriend Nala was released by Walt Disney Pictures (in Los Angeles) in 1994, and earned gross box office revenue of R4,7 billion worldwide.
A vast global television audience and all manner of dignitaries gathered in the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Conference Centre, including football officials, coaches, legends, the entire Fifa executive committee, the entire LOC board, the entire SA Cabinet, members of the media etc., etc. will be treated to an upbeat, foot-tapping series of performances designed to reflect the host country.
The performers will include the Soweto String Quartet (fusing township jazz with classical music), the three Afro Tenors (Messrs Moahi, Mabena and Sibandan who sing well-known opera hits and so sustain the World Cup tradition established by Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras), and FreshlyGround (an Afro-fusion band with members from Cape Town, Zimbabwe and Mozambique).
Contemplating this programme, some critics may suggest that, in seeking to portray Africa through music, the organisers are creating not so much an authentic African sound but a sanitised, commercial western caricature of Africa, packed with Disney characters, violins and soaring arias.
Such criticism would, however, be unfair. The organisers’ challenge tomorrow afternoon, and indeed through each of the 930 days that remain until the opening match and then through the 30 days of the tournament, is to convey a positive, easily digestible image of Africa to the rest of the world.
When literally thousands of television and radio news bulletins feature reports on the Preliminary Draw tomorrow evening, in all probability, they will feature only the names of their respective national teams being drawn and a brief snippet or clip of Simba and Nala prancing across the stage.
In that instant, from Tokyo to Timbuktu, from Lima to London, from Sydney to San Francisco, these many thousands of millions of people will recognise the tune, and smile, and receive a positive image of Africa as a place to invest, do business, holiday and enjoy; and, in that instant, the success of South Africa 2010 will have started.
•Edward Griffiths, former general manager of SATV sport, is based in London.