Thursday, July 1, 2010

Talk of Racism Tainting the World Cup: Ghana Black Stars Only African Team to Qualify for Round of 16

This Thursday (July 1) is a Ghanaian public holiday (Republic Day), but overshadowing the public holiday is Friday’s big World Cup quarter finals match: Ghana vs. Uruguay!

Still behind on the details of soccer, I can’t give you solid prediction about the outcome of the game on Friday, but I can give you a quick update on Ghana’s World Cup journey. Ghana was the only African team to make it into the round of 16. This is still a very delicate subject for Ghanaians despite Ghana’s success because this year’s World Cup, hosted in South Africa, is an opportunity for Africa to shine and only Ghana has succeeded in staying in the spotlight. I’m completely unqualified to evaluate the African teams’ strengths and weaknesses, but several Ghanaians that I have talked to suspect foul play as a factor in the reason why most of the African teams have not performed so well.

Having the World Cup in South Africa carries with it many important messages and themes. It showcases the entire continent of Africa in a similar way to the glory and attention given to Olympic cities. But even that comparison seems too simple. It’s not just nationalistic pride that the African countries feel. They believe that this kind of recognition proves to the world that Africa is not a backward and resources-deprived land, but can compete competitively with developed countries on several measures. So, the performance of the soccer players is not just about the game, but also about achieving the status of being equal members of the global community.

One important part of achieving that equal status is racism, which I don’t believe has been stamped out of any country. One of the most commonly played commercials during the World Cup games is a commercial about stopping racism. It shows soccer stars like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo taking stands against racism, players of different colors exhibiting admirable sportsmanship, and teams walking together arm in arm across the field. Because of this commercial, it is disheartening to hear the Ghanaians attribute the African teams’ poor performance to racism.

The Ghanaians are not just invested in their own Ghana Black Stars, but all of the African teams. They have said that the referees of the World Cup have always favored the opposing team and thus refuse to give Africa a fair chance to show the world how great they really are. I have noticed the crazy inconsistencies in reffing the games and will say that I’m in the camp that believes that changes need to be made to bring a little bit of standardization into the game. But, given that there is just one ref and no instant replay, these inconsistencies are things that just have to be swallowed as part of the game, for now. I do hope that racism is not part of the results we have seen, but simply a matter of antiquated soccer rules that need a bit of updating.

Despite the setbacks the other African teams have experienced, the Ghana Black Stars are forging ahead strong. Last Saturday, they played the United States in the first of the elimination matches. Since I’m in Ghana, I naturally supported Ghana. I even bought a Ghana Black Stars jersey just for the event and made a point to sit with the Ghanaian medical students in the packed Junior Common Room (JCR) to watch the game. Just watching the game with the Ghanaian med students is an experience—it feels like you are in the stadium. There are vuvuzelas and the reaction to every kick, steal, and slide is met with a huge outburst from the med students. The best part about watching the game with the Ghanaian med students is being a part of the celebration whenever Ghana scores a goal….or better yet, when they win the game like they did last Saturday against the US (2-1). One second my feet were on the ground grabbing for my camera to record the celebration and the next second, my feet were off the ground and I was on someone’s shoulders being paraded around the room. The Ghanaian med students didn’t just break out into cheers, but sang and beat the tables and chairs in rhythm for at least five minutes! Stay tuned for a Youtube video!

I will admit that it was a little sad to see the US lose and have their World Cup journey cut short. We did have some good moments, but I think Ghana was the better team on Saturday. All eyes in the country will be on Ghana again this Friday as we play Uruguay. If all goes as planned, I’ll be back in the med school JCR wearing my jersey. Go Ghana! Go Black Stars!!!!

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