The Ugly game

Because of a lack of atmosphere I have not been following the games here in America, but of course I heard that Ghana (aka “Africa”) won over the U.S., in the context of, “isn’t it incredible that an African team beat a superpower?” As if the superpower were using its weapons of mass destruction to win the game.

I have been reading news articles about the game, and who’s in and who’s out. I was surprised to read how the beautiful game has been taking its mask off and showing its true colours. I read that the Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has suspended the national team because they failed to qualify for the next round in South Africa.

The French team returned home in disgrace and there is an official inquiry into why they lost. (“We played badly” said Thierry Henry—isn’t that enough? And he should know). Everyone who watches France can’t help noticing that all but two or three of the players are black. National heroes when they win but “hoodlums” when they don’t, and French pundits argue in hardly-disguised racist terms that they are the product of immigrant ghettoes and not real Frenchmen at all. (See:

The BBC has asked, “how do you punish a football team?” (
It answers its own question by describing what Saddam Hussein’s son Uday did to a losing national team (I won’t describe it), what happened to the Ivorians after losing in the African Cup of Nations (held in a military camp), and what Stalin did after the Soviet team lost to the “traitorous” Yugoslavs in 1952 (all records of the match and the team expunged from history). Flying the French players home in economy class seems pretty mild by comparison, but that’s just the beginning of the story. This was before England lost and I guess the British version is being pilloried in The Sun newspaper, which will make the England footballers wish for Stalin’s punishment.

Khartoum had its moment of fame in this World Cup back in November when it hosted the last game of the North African qualifying matches, which was a special playoff between the group leaders Egypt and Algeria. After the Cairo match that left the two deadlocked at the head of the table, the Algerians blamed Egypt for crowd violence and the next day Egyptian businesses in Algiers were ransacked. But this was nothing to the stones thrown and fans injured in Khartoum after the Algerians beat the odds to win against the African champions, Egypt. Despite the biggest security operation in Khartoum since Darfur rebels stormed the city eighteen months before, Egyptian fans stoned the Algerian team bus, and Algerian fans retaliated against Egyptian supporters.

Algeria won the match and if it hadn’t been for the geographical accident that Libya lies between the two countries there would probably have been a war. Ambassadors were recalled, accusations traded and a Sudanese presidential advisor put aside his day job of implementing Sudan’s own peace agreement to put forward a three-stage mediation plan between the two countries. Although Sudanese fans were divided—some cheered Egypt because of the historical links between the two countries, and others supported Algeria for exactly the same reason (Sudanese have a love-hate relationship with their former colonial occupier)—the Sudanese decided they had enough of fighting each other and were spectators to this. “Algeria won the football but Egypt won the boxing” was the cartoon in one newspaper.

Is football the beautiful game that was going to bring us all altogether and make us feel good? Anyone for croquet?

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