Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Does the FIFA Confederations Cup Matter?

I've been trying to get myself excited for the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, which starts June 14th.

But honestly, I could care less.

I know what people are saying:

Brazil-Italy should be great!
The world's #1 team Spain is playing!
Will Egypt perform on the big stage?
How will Iraq do?
And will South Africa put on a good show one year before the World Cup?
Is SA ready?

I also know that the Confederations Cup is a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, the introduction of global tournament play to the continent of Africa and an important tournament for continental champions.

Still, it feels like fixture congestion to me.

Many of these players just got done competing in their domestic league championships. Now they'll be in South Africa instead of resting their weary bones.

Also, some of these countries still have World Cup qualifying to take care of. When?!? Doesn't this seem excessive to anyone?

I know it's an important dress rehearsal for South Africa. Couldn't they do something else? Like hold a local tournament or invite club teams over for pre-season training?

Maybe it just feels inconsequential.

For the point of debate, I'm including comments from Danny Jordaan, CEO of the South Africa 2010 World Cup Organizing Committee. Writing an editorial in South Africa's Daily Dispatch, Jordaan makes the case for the importance of the Cup.

What do you think?

I disagree with those who believe that the Confederations Cup, which begins on June 14, is not a serious tournament.

While I can understand that some people are making a comparison between it and the 2010 World Cup, the Confed Cup is absolutely crucial for South Africa.

It is the official dress rehearsal for the World Cup next year, and in so many respects it will set the tone for the global showpiece.

In a nutshell, it will test our preparedness and provide valuable pointers in so many areas on the road ahead.

Crucially, it will usher in a vital new culture of football in our country in which we play host to some of the world’s top soccer nations – their teams, officials, supporters and media – while imparting to our own communities the significance of their role in playing, administrating, supporting and reporting the beautiful game.

Positive outcomes in the execution of the Confed Cup imperatives will instill an immense sense of confidence, here and abroad, in respect of our progress in putting on the best World Cup of them all.

In order to do that, however, we must stage the best Confed Cup of them all.

And to borrow a famous phrase of another soccer-lover, US President Barack Obama: “Yes we can!”

Indeed, the fact that this is a tournament involving all six of Fifa’s football confederations, as well as the holders of the World Cup and hosts, South Africa, means that the message it sends out will reach right across the globe and be consumed by all those football nations who will play in next year’s World Cup. The best marketing brains like to use the phrase “advertising you cannot buy” – and that’s exactly the promise that the Confed Cup holds for South Africa.

Permit me to use an example from another sport.

Cricket SA recently agreed at the shortest notice to stage the Indian Premier League – eight teams representing the best players in the world in 59 back- to-back matches.

By all accounts, it was an extraordinary success – providing advertising that South Africa just could not buy.

The IPL in South Africa was not just good for cricket but did wonders in enhancing South Africa’s credibility as a preferred destination to host global events of any nature.

Apart from the acclaim from abroad, the extravaganza re-instilled confidence in all South Africans in our capability to stage and enjoy a great sporting experience – and to extend the red carpet of hospitality to any and every nation.

This is the promise of the Confed Cup in which we have the honour to welcome the top footballers from Italy, Brazil, Spain, Egypt, the US, Iraq and New Zealand.

By ensuring their comfort, security and enjoyment, we do not just embrace them – we embrace the world.

For South African soccer followers, there is the rare opportunity of seeing many of the world’s great teams and players in action at our home grounds – a year ahead of the World Cup itself.

This is a gilt-edged opportunity for Bafana Bafana to play in this exalted company, test themselves against the best, and for us to cheer them on.

What better opportunity can there be for them, and for us?

There is a misconception that next month’s tournament cannot provide a true measure of our preparedness for the “main event” because the host cities and venues that will stage the matches of the Confed Cup 2009 do not include all those for the World Cup 2010.

This is simply not so because those World Cup host cities and stadiums that do not form part of the Confederations Cup programme are all preparing on the same template and will thus enjoy the rare opportunity to monitor closely next month’s operational plan to ensure that they, too, are on track ahead of 2010.

Also all those people working on the Confed Cup – think of the thousands of volunteers – will take their hard- earned experience into 2010.

And all those South African soccer lovers who cannot wait to revel in the once-in-a-lifetime experience of 2010 now have the privilege to raise the roof early in 2009.

Is this month’s tournament an important one for all of us?

You bet it is.

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