Three weeks on and the media are still making a big deal of our winning the right to host the 2009 U-20 World Cup in soccer.
The reason for all the noise is because most people felt the tournament compensated for the big fat zero we received from FIFA voters when we bid for the 2010 World Cup and that by corralling the U-20 we had somehow vindicated ourselves in the world’s eyes.
But before we go overboard, let us relate a few select points that might make us mortal again. First, we must thank Sepp Blatter for helping us get the U-20 championship.
The FIFA boss had decided that since the 2010 World Cup would be played in Africa, as a prelude, the continent would also host the U-17 World Cup in 2009 – that went to Nigeria – and the U-20.
Had the bid extended to countries beyond Africa, the chances of Egypt winning would have significantly slimmed.
Second, nothing, and that includes any under-anything, can replace the World Cup, because simply, it is the world’s biggest soccer showcase. Nothing compares. We sought the World Cup, the biggest enchilada in football, but failed. What we got instead was a much smaller and somewhat benign version of the real thing.
Third, our only challenge to host the U-20 came from Botswana; nobody else wanted to bid. I have nothing against Botswanans but they come from a part of Africa so disadvantaged – they reportedly return medicine to pharmacies if the box says “take after meals – FIFA didn’t even bother to vote; it selected us outright.
FIFA did see some positives in us, especially the experience we garnered from hosting the U-17 World Cup in 1997 and last year’s African Cup of Nations. But we need to work on the negatives. It’s painful to remember but remember the pan-Arab Games we held in 1991?
A stampede of spectators trying to get into Cairo Stadium to see the opening ceremony got the Games off to an embarrassing start.
Many International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials and dignitaries were unable to make it into the stadium in the confusion and returned to their hotels to watch the ceremony on television. The then IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch barely made it inside the stadium himself.
He later said the opening ceremonies were one of the best he had ever witnessed, and he included the Olympics. To this day, we don’t know if Samaranch was suffering from Alzheimer’s, or was being sarcastic, senile, comatose or just trying to be plain nice.
On the other hand, Blatter was blunt.
On a visit to Cairo shortly before the 2010 vote, during a human traffic jam at his press conference, Blatter was overheard chiding a reporter. “How, Blatter asked despairingly, “do you plan to host a World Cup when you can’t host a news conference?
Other evils at the ACN was going to a match four hours early. Abroad you can go to a game even after it starts, even if it’s a World Cup final.
The international formula for match tickets is simple: one individual, one ticket, one seat.
But in the ACN, our equations were one individual, one ticket, no seat or five individuals, one ticket, three seats or one individual, five tickets and no entry into the stadium.
Our Cairo Stadium pitch is dry, yellow and hard as nails. It’s amazing how in an agricultural country like ours we cannot grow a lush, verdant field when in Europe, be it sleet, snow or ice their fields remain flourishing and fertile.
We sought the U-20 World Cup with very little hype, nothing compared to 2010, for fear of another lost bid fiasco. Now that we won it, we should be happy but not cocky.
Let’s now prove we deserve it.