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FIFA WM 2010, Topnews

03. Juli 2009

Confed Cup fan unity offers image of future SA

South Africans rallied behind football in a rare show of unity at the Confederations Cup, a year ahead of the 2010 World Cup, in a country trying to shake off decades of race segregation. The 14-day tournament - won by Brazil in a nailbiting 3-2 finale - saw supporters of different races cheering in stands in what is regarded as a black's man game in South Africa.

While some cautioned that the stadium goodwill has to seep into normal life, Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations told AFP that the event had brought people together.

"I think the unifying effect has been underrated," he told AFP.

"The pictures in the stadiums, the TV footage, of black and white South Africans ... suddenly together was perhaps the image of what a future South Africa might become. It's a visual representation."

The power of sport on the country's bitter race divisions was seen in 1995 when former president Nelson Mandela lifted the rugby World Cup for South Africa, wearing a Springbok jersey, for decades a white preserve.

Apartheid's legacy of separation left South Africans with little in common apart from a record crime rate and passion for sport, said Cronje.

"You certainly started to see some of that 1995 Rugby World Cup sentiment coming through again," he said.

But independent analyst Somadoda Fikeni warned that the unifying role has been overplayed and still had to be seen outside stadiums.

"In 1995, post-Springbok victory, South Africans united behind the sports but that didn't translate into unity in terms of the national agenda and other broader issues," he said.

"The dominant feature of sports is still very much racialised but these little achievements will push us inch by inch in some direction."

Organisers have hailed the tournament for bringing the "Rainbow Nation" together around sport which - like housing, buses, and schools - was strictly segregated under white minority rule.

A rallying point was local team Bafana Bafana's (The Boys) fourth placing, with unexpectedly strong showings against Spain and Brazil, despite one win in five outings after years of mixed fortunes.

"It was natural that South Africans would support the national team because people like to support winners. We have to keep producing results to maintain the level of support," former Bafana captain Neil Tovey, who led The Boys to Africa Cup of Nations glory in 1996.

Praise for Bafana found its way onto rugby forums, amid match scenes of dancing supporters wearing traditional soccer garb of oversized sunglasses and miners helmets and first-time blowers of the noisy plastic vuvuzela trumpets.

Kick Off magazine's Ryan Cooper said seeing white men dressed in Bafana shirts and carrying vuvuzelas into a stadium was a "reality check" - with the country's 4.5 million whites a rare sight at local matches.

"Most of the people who went to the stadiums went there for the big names but I think the Confeds did convert a certain percentage of white people to be interested in the game locally," he said.

"Most people although they followed Bafana they didn't know who the players were because they don't follow local soccer but I think from now they would follow the game."

The fact that sports attract the different races of South Africa's 48.7-million population does not necessarily mean racism, said Cronje, as South Africa prepares to host the Africa's first World Cup in 2010.

"It's a completely alien area to them. It's a question of the unknown and being afraid of that. Perhaps what we might start to see is a slow breaking the ice on the soccer side after this tournament.

Sapa-AFP

Picture: SA Good News; Rainbow nation: a colourful crowd cheer Bafana Bafana during the Confederations Cup

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