FIFA World Cup 2010: Media Conquering Planet Football!

Most Earthlings have just spent a month on this!

“If you’re an alien planning to invade the Earth, choose July 11. Chances are that our planet will offer little or no resistance.

“Today, most members of the Earth’s dominant species – the nearly 7 billion humans – will be preoccupied with 22 able-bodied men chasing a little hollow sphere. It’s only a game, really, but what a game: the whole world holds its breath as the ‘titans of kick’ clash in the FIFA World Cup Final.

“Played across 10 venues in South Africa, this was much more than a sporting tournament. It’s the ultimate celebration of the world’s most popular sport, held once every four years. More popular than the Olympics, it demonstrates the sheer power of sports and media to bring together – momentarily, at least – the usually fragmented and squabbling humanity.”

This is the opening of my latest op ed essay, which appears in several print and online outlets this weekend. It’s timed for the finals of the FIFA World Cup 2010 – the most widely followed sporting event in the world, which will be played in Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa today, 11 July 2010. The Netherlands will meet Spain in this culmination of international football that has been distracting a good part of humanity for a month.

This sporting event is tipped to be the most-watched television event in history. Hundreds of broadcasters are transmitting the World Cup to a cumulative TV audience that FIFA estimates to reach more than 26 billion people. Some TV channels offer high definition (HD) or 3-D quality images to enhance the mass viewing experience.

The essay was written a few days ago, after the FIFA World Cup 2010 had reached the semi-finals stage. To be honest, I’m not an ardent football fan. But as an observer of popular culture, I’ve gladly allowed myself to be caught up in the current football frenzy. I just love to watch people who watch the game…

It’s a light piece written to suit the current global mood, but I acknowledge that the World Cup is really more than just a ball game. The basic thrust of my essay is to comment on the powerful mix of fooball and live coverage: “For the past month, the winning formula for unifying the Global Family seemed to be: international football + live broadcasts + live coverage via the web and mobile phones.”

The Times of India, 11 July 2010: Planet Football: Sports unites a fragmented humanity

The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka, 11 July 2010: Conquering Planet Football

Groundviews.org: Beam Me Up to Planet Football

United Colours of Football, courtesy FIFA

The essay builds on themes that I’ve already explored on this blog – for example, how President Nelson Mandela used the 1995 World Cup Rugby championship to unite his racially divided nation, as told in the movie Invictus.

I also touch on FIFA being a wielder of formidable soft power in the world today, arguably more influential than the United Nations.

Here’s my parting thought, on which I invite reader comment: “On second thoughts, those invading aliens don’t need to worry too much about the Earth’s political leaders or their armies. Without firing a single shot, the globalised media have quietly taken over our Global Village — and now it’s too late to resist! We can argue on its merits and demerits, but the facts are indisputable.”

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Invictus: Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman serve more Mandela magic

Nelson Mandela hands the World Cup to Francois Pienaar in 1995 (Photo courtesy The Sun, UK)

Updated: 6 Dec 2013 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918 – 2013): Thank You and Goodbye!

If a run-away genie granted me a wish to clone any single living human being, I’ll have no hesitation with my choice: Nelson Mandela — undoubtedly the greatest living statesman on the planet.

One might argue that Mandelas are not born; they are made. A combination of personality and historical circumstances create the rare phenomena like him.

In July 2008, when Mandela turned 90, I quoted the American film-maker, social activist and blogger Danny Schechter — who filmed Mandela’s struggle to end apartheid and restore democracy in South Africa — as saying: He (Mandela) is one of those leaders who not only helped free his own country and people but became an icon and symbol for freedom in the world. At a time when darkness seems to be descending again, with the economy on the edge amidst protracted wars and pervasive abuses of powers, he is the one person that people the world over look to as a symbol of that saying that ‘another world is possible.’ He is not perfect – who is? He has taken great risks, and made his share of mistakes, but the love and adoration he inspires speaks to how special he is – even as he sees himself as part of a collective, a movement…

The Mandela story has been told many times by many film-makers, writers and journalists. Few other leaders have engaged the popular culture and media’s attention — while both in and out of office — as Mandela has, and with good reason.

One poem + two men = Rainbow Nation

The latest film inspired by Mandela is Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Both actors have just been nominated for Oscar awards – for best actor and best supporting actor respectively. But the film’s exclusion from the 10 nominees for best picture has surprised and disappointed some.

Invictus reconstructs the events in the life of Nelson Mandela at a crucial time for himself and country: after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, during his term as the rainbow nation’s first black president. The film revolves around how he campaigned to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup event as an opportunity to unite his rainbow nation. (South Africa’s team eventually won the championship.)

Here’s the plot summary from IMDB:
The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s rugby team as they make their historic run to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match.

Read Wikipedia’s plot summary

Watch official trailer of Invictus the movie:

The film’s title comes from the fact that Mandela had the poem Invictus, by English poet William Ernest Henley, written on a scrap of paper on his prison cell while he was incarcerated. The story is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation.

A legend plays another legend

I can’t wait to see Invictus, for it has one of my favourite actors playing one of my greatest heroes. Morgan Freeman is such a versatile and accomplished actor. Having played the US President and God in past movies, this is clearly cut out for him.

As Clint Eastwood explains: “As an actor, Morgan has the same presence when he walks in the room that Mandela has as a politician. Morgan has a certain bearing and charisma. He was built to play this role.”

The Guardian (UK) preview noted: “So convinced by Freeman’s performance was Mandela’s personal assistant that when she stepped on set, she wondered how her boss had made it to the shoot without her. Freeman plays Mandela with all the expected wisdom and fortitude, but it’s the twinkle of mischief in his eye that makes you feel you’re not just watching the man, rather than a virtuoso impression.”

The Guardian calls Invictus “a startlingly powerful film: a clear-eyed look a recent history, an awe-inspiring tale of prejudice overcome, a study of power – and a rousing sports movie.”

Note: In the movie, Mandela gives the “Invictus” poem to his national rugby team’s captain Francois Pienaar before the start of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. In reality, Mandela provided Pienaar with an extract from Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech from 1910.