Let the games begin!

To the sound of the anthemic “Waving Flag” by Somali-Canadian rap star K’naan, hold on to your flags, for one of the world’s great sports spectaculars is about to lift off.

Is there a person awake here in Toronto who is not primed for the International Federation of Football Association’s (FIFA) World Cup taking place in South Africa?

Starting tomorrow, and for most of the coming month, those who love a lime with a nationalistic flavour will be glued in their numbers to widescreen televisions, many of them in bars across the land, the better to share the thrill of victory, the drama of the deflected shot on goal and the gravity defying maneuverings that are part of ‘the beautiful game’.

There is no question that soccer, the poor child’s game, is a unifying force in the world. In this 2010 World Cup event even a pariah nation such as North Korea is allowed in. Further, South Africa, once the object of protests over its detestable apartheid system, is now at centre stage as the host of the 19th presentation of the World Cup. It is a testament to the power of the game of soccer that some 16 years after the first post apartheid democratic elections the world is focused on the host country with a new perspective.

And, if not in South Africa, what better place to be over the next month than multi-cultural, multi-national Toronto for World Cup competitions? If you can’t be there or in the country of the team you are rooting for, then all you need to do is choose the right intersection in this city. There are no Reggae Boyz or Soca Warriors this time around, but it’s St. Clair Ave. West (west of Christie) for the Central America celebrations; St. Clair and Dufferin for Italy’s victory parties; Ossington and Dundas will be awake early and up late to catch all the fancy footwork from the Brazilian team; Christie and Bloor is where Koreans will gather.

All those gatherings mean that even though the games are taking place half a world away, the World Cup will still have a positive effect on our local economy as people come out to restaurants and sports bars to spend time and money, especially with the bar hours being extended for the game. (But, will Toronto soccer fans really require a beer at 10 a.m.?)  Then there are all the car flags, players’ jerseys and other paraphernalia that will be sold for the show of nationalistic support that is a given during these events.

Considering all the worrisome events that we are being presented with these days, from the fortification of the city’s downtown Front St. West region in anticipation of the protesters expected to take a stand during the G20 economic nations summit at the end of the month, to the ongoing spillage of millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico and the local mayoral campaign, the kick off of the World Cup is a welcome festivity. The only thing that could get in the way would be the usual grandstanding by players and controversial calls from the referees.

Meanwhile, those who like to make bets or claim to be able to see the future can begin to call the odds on which one of the 32 teams will get to hold the gold cup at the end of this tournament. While we are already hearing that Spain, Brazil and England are heavy favourites, Ghana’s Black Stars cannot be counted out, having been named the most improved team of the 2006 World Cup. Maybe it will be Cameroon’s turn. Perhaps South Africa’s own Bafana Bafana will make good use of their home turf advantage.

Hockey notwithstanding, with close to 3,000,000 involved in some form of team play, soccer is arguably Canada’s most popular sport.

Actually, our own professional soccer team, Toronto Football Club (Toronto FC), has been drawing bigger crowds at BMO Stadium than a Blue Jays baseball game at the Rogers Centre. So we look forward to the day when a Canadian national team joins the excitement in a World Cup series.

For now, let the games, the partying and the fun begin.

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