HAVING been so close to the action at football’s World Cup in South Africa nine years ago, I have a rough idea of what it may be like in Japan — the carnival atmosphere throughout the country — even after their team crashed out of the Rugby World Cup at the quarter-final stage last weekend.
Siphiwe Tshabalala’s spectacular opening goal for South Africa against Mexico in the first match of the 2010 World Cup, which threw the entire country into a frenzy, had probably the same effect as Japan stunning Ireland and Scotland in the pool phase of the ongoing Webb Ellis Cup competition.
Although South Africa fell short of the knockout stage of the 2010 World Cup, every host’s wish, the sights and sounds of the historic tournament reverberated throughout this diverse country from start to finish — a big party never to be forgotten by the Rainbow Nation.
This is what the power of hosting does to a nation and for South Africa, while football has enjoyed far lesser international success — by 2010 the country was already two-time world champions in rugby, one of the titles as hosts — the organisational achievements witnessed in the Fifa World Cup was victory for all their people of that country and went a long way to atoning for Bafana Bafana’s on-field disappointment.
Something similar could be said of Japan. In a country where sumo wrestling, baseball, football and quite a few more disciplines enjoy far greater popularity nationwide — the “Land of The Rising Sun” has done admirably well to become the first Asian team to reach the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
I remarked to a friend before last Sunday’s quarter-final clash that the Springboks would be a bridge too far for the Japanese, adding on that by reaching that far — claiming the major scalps of the Irish and the Scottish en route to the last four — the hosts had already achieved something which they should be proud of.
A repeat of their upset win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup was always a motivational throwback for the Brave Blossoms of Japan going into last week’s match. But it is one thing to deal the mighty Springboks a slight setback in a pool match of the World Cup and another to send them packing from the tournament in a crucial knockout tie.
Hence I opined to my pal that Japan’s showdown with the Boks ought to be a merrymaking event, a celebration of a ground-breaking World Cup well hosted and a heroes’ parade for a host team well worth the special occasion.
Japan dared to dream and while in the end a quarter-finals place was the furthest they could go, no doubt after the final on November 2 — just like South Africa back in 2010 — they will look back with a feeling of immense pride at having staged an unbelievable World Cup.
What are the main lessons to be drawn from this, for someone sitting and observing from a place like Zimbabwe? The first lesson, of course, is putting up a good show — being a worthy host.
I often wonder if a lot of people in Zimbabwe do have a full appreciation of exactly what it takes to host a major sporting event without risking permanent damage to reputation if anything goes wrong along the way, and we are notoriously prone to costly blunders in this country.
Financial and organisational resources, sound facilities, crowd safety, public buy-in and strong attention to detail are some of the non-negotiable necessities for hosting a successful tournament.
On the field, Zimbabwe right now — because of the power of hosting I made mention of — has great potential, with our exciting array of football talent, to do more than what the mind can imagine if a tournament like the Africa Cup of Nations were to be played on our home turf.
Pity, because our nation has remained stagnant for many years in plenty of areas, hosting a major event remains a pipeline dream for now.
Not to say it cannot be done. It is pretty possible, if hearts are put into it.
Every now and then, the rest of the world keeps churning out inspirational stories to draw motivation from.