Saturday, June 26, 2010

“World Cup Crazy” by Chris; 26 June 2010

Several of you have asked me if the people here are into the World Cup. The answer is a yeah--in a big way! For the past two weeks there has been little talk of much else. Our school has changed is schedule (starting classes at 6 am) so that students and teachers can be done in time to see the matches. The newspapers and radio talk of nothing else. Interviewers are constantly asking government officials how they feel now that the hopes of all Africans are now resting on Ghana. Might this all be a bit dysfunctional? Perhaps!

Lets back up for those of you who are not following the “action”; the World Cup is the championship tournament for international football (soccer) and is held every four years in a different country, similar to the Olympics. This year it happens to be in South Africa, its first time on African soil. It started with 32 teams and is now down to 16. Six of them were from Africa; South Africa, Cameroon, Cote D’ Ivoire, Algeria, Nigeria, and of course Ghana. All of the African teams were eliminated in a disappointing first round – all except for Ghana. And so Ghana pretty much represents the entire continent now. If only I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “All Africa’s hopes now lie with Ghana.”


Every visible television (including this one at the shop next to our favorite spot) draws a crowd

So as chance would have it, the Ghana Black Stars are set to play the U.S. The big match will be at 18:30 GMT and to say Ghanaians are frothing at the mouth would not be an over statement.  Let’s discuss how we got to where they are now, and before I get going forgive me, for I am a bit jaded and have experienced too much here not to react.

During the first World Cup round each team plays 3 games in their assigned group and you either win lose or draw getting 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, and 0 for a loss. In the end the two teams with the highest point counts in each group advance. The Black Stars grouping included Serbia, Germany and Australia. They won their first match against Serbia, the first win (and if I’m not mistaken the only win for an African team), then played to a draw with a weaker Australia, setting them up to play Germany in their last match of the first round. On the final day of round 1, Serbia played Australia while the Black Stars played Germany. In order to advance to the final 16, Ghana had to either win or draw against Germany…that is, if Serbia won their match as expected. Well Serbia did not win. By a miracle of all miracles Serbia lost to the weak Australian team, saving Ghana’s butt. 

Tammi and I along with another friend watched this event unfold in Ho, and upon hearing of Serbia’s loss, (the games were being played simultaneously) mayhem ensued. There were impromptu street parades, yes lots and lots of vovozellas (obnoxious horn distings) being blown, yelling, cheering and car horns blearing well into the night. Now I do not have a problem with celebrating a win, but… they didn’t win! They played a lackluster game and lost 1 to nothing. I think the thing that really set me off was at the end of if it when the Ghana players (again-after losing the match) tore their shirts off and ran around the field waving the Ghana flag. Did I mention that Ghana LOST THE GAME?! Yet they were acting as if they had won the entire championship when they had only lucked out enough to advance.

So you’re wondering what my take on it is? Sadly I find that this is a perfect metaphor; yet again an African country is bailed out by someone else and they take what they can get with little or no modesty or pride. Ghana was perfectly capable of winning their match. They are a good team with great potential. They had many opportunities where they could have risen to the occasion and scored a goal, earning their place in the tournament. But apparently they preferred to sit back, keep an ear on the other match that was taking place, and let somebody else put them into a position to play on. Typical…

I was angry and still am. I am sorry I am venting this on you but you know sometimes I feel things need to be said that ain’t so nice. If Australia had not had a big surprise win, Ghana would have been sent home. The team and its fans cared little of the fact that they failed to win. What would we have done in the U.S. if this had happened? (By the way, the U.S. earned their presence in the second round with 2 wins and a draw). How I see it is we would have shook hands with our fellow competitors, retired to the locker room, wiped our brow, breathed a sigh of relief, and counted or blessings. But not here, instead there is the typical air of entitlement.

One of these fans is not like the others...Where's Chris?
I did the sermon at our school’s church service last Sunday (believe it or not) and one of the main points I spoke on was anything worth having is worth working for. And I think my message may have even got through to a few. Then this event comes along and my message is flipped on its backside by Ghana’s greatest idols. It drives me crazy!
Solutions? It’s not simple. The way I see it is that this is a culture that is ruled by entitlements. People here seem to strive to greater positions so that they can enjoy greater entitlements but without putting in the work. The government throws out benefits to the various heads such as new cars, TVs, even air conditioners, seemingly to pacify them. I have shared my frustrations about leadership here many times because it seems that those in positions of power reap all the benefits but seem not to know how to or do not want to do what it takes to be real leaders. It needs to start somewhere. And it might get started if we stop simply handing people things and instead encourage them truly earn it. Stop the aid and make them trade. This country is chuck full of resources and manpower but as long as they keep getting handouts there is little or no incentive to utilize either.

There are several other discussion points I could include here such as why African teams have not fared well even though they have some of the best players in the world. There is also the point of “All the hopes of Africa are upon the Black Stars” or the one that really gets me, “God is on the side of the Black Stars.” But these would just force me to rant of even longer and trust me you wouldn’t want that.

So I’ll finish by saying that while I hope the U.S. team does well, in the end I honestly hope for the best team to win. I would actually love to see the Ghana play well as a team, play with passion, and earn a victory over the U.S. Then during the post game interviews I would want to see Black Stars team members talk about how great it feels to have accomplished something that they have worked so hard together to achieve. This would indeed be a small way in which the Black Stars could genuinely help their fellow Africans.

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