The people’s game

So. Much. Soccer.

I’ve been like Homer Simpson, tongue lolling sloppily while I gorge myself on game after beautiful game. The World Cup comes only once every four years but makes up for its infrequency with an endless deluge of coverage. For 30 full days. Yum.

As if this weren’t enough, this past weekend I competed in the Toronto International Pride Cup (TIPC), the fourth annual soccer tournament presented by Downtown Soccer Toronto. My history with the league and this event goes way back and is enmeshed with my trip to Africa and the start of this blog. Those curious about how these things are connected could start with this post, and those familiar with the story may be interested to hear that I have again been bestowed with (someone else’s) MVP game ball and the instruction to take it to Africa… I love it when the universe is unmistakeable in its intentions for me.

So guess what? There’s another World Cup going in South Africa right now. According to the Sowetan, the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign has launched a 36-team tournament to highlight the plight of the province’s poor (“Poor’s World Cup keeps drugs at bay,” June 21, 2010). Now this is interesting.

The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign “was formed on November 2000 with the aim of fighting evictions, water cut-offs and poor health services, obtaining free electricity, securing decent housing, and opposing police brutality”, and is an umbrella group for over 15 organizations. (Read more on their About page).

Remember waaaay back before the kick off on June 11? There were a few stories in the papers about FIFA’s stranglehold on every element of the Cup games, and one angle that generated a lot of commentary was the ban on all vendors save for its commercial partners.

Regulations imposed by football’s world governing body Fifa on host countries stipulate that no-one but its commercial partners be allowed trade or promote their products in the immediate vicinity of all World Cup sites.
– “South Africa World Cup ‘just for the rich’,” BBC News, May 10, 2010

So Coca-Cola gets an exclusive license and the ice cream vendor loses his business.

More perplexingly, FIFA also banned the distribution of condoms and health information at World Cup stadia (“AIDS groups protests FIFA ban policy,” The Associated Press, June 5, 2010). I wonder what commercial interests this policy is protecting?

There was press. There were protests.  And then June 11 came and we were all deafened by the Cup cannon (yes it’s an obscure G20 reference) which, incidentally, sounds exactly like tens of thousands of vuvuzelas.

Remember: I am a fan. But I think it’s a shame – a missed opportunity – that these voices have been effectively silenced. The ice cream vendor’s still faced with feeding his family, the rate of HIV and AIDS transmission in South Africa is still enormous.

Enter the Poor People’s World Cup. Thirty-six teams from communities across the Western Cape are competing in the tournament which has a grand prize of R5000 (approximately $650 CDN).

[W]hile the poor people in Cape Town and in South Africa as a whole are suffering, the rich are enjoying themselves in the expensive stadiums at the expenses of the poor… All the traders and communities – that were negatively affected by FIFA related urban renewal projects and by the implemented by-laws – were invited to this tournament: a tournament that is FREE and open to everybody.
– “The First Poor People’s World Cup on African Soil,” from the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign site.

The Poor People’s World Cup: yet another example of people using the people’s game to stage a response to a social problem.

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