Yesterday I went to college. Or to a college I should say. There was a panel discussion entitled Africa's World Cup at The New School here in Manhattan that sounded crushingly academic but kind of like soccer nerd heaven so I gave up my afternoon to it. So did about 25 other NYers of all stripes who braved the gauntlet of co-eds in summer dresses to show up as well.
Hosted by Sean Jacobs, assistant professor at the graduate program in International Affairs, the panel included Time magazine senior editor Tony Karon, Austin Merrill of Vanity Fair's Fair Play blog and writers Binyavanga Wainaina and Teju Cole. Aside from Austin all of the panelist hailed from the The Place Formerly Known As The Dark Continent™ and brought some very unique perspectives on the upcoming World Cup.
There was so much ground covered over the 2+ hours of discussion that it's almost impossible to concoct anything bordering on a complete recap but here's a few interesting bullet points.
- Africa is being presented almost as a country, not a continent, by advertisers. Check out recent ads by Puma and Coca-Cola and you could almost get the idea that a multitude of country's are hosting the event, not just South Africa.
- Very few Africa-based players will actually participate in the first World Cup to be held on the continent. Most of the African teams will field a side made up of players who ply their trade in Europe.
- Drogba is damn near a God in Africa; dirty dude has even inspired a genre of dance music called "Drogbacite" in West Africa.
- African club football is screwed. It's easier for people to keep up with Euro soccer than local leagues because it's on free TV; imagine how much harder it would be to sell people MLS on FSC if the EPL, La Liga and Serie A were available on NBC, CBS and ABC.
- Loads of brainy soccer humor from this bunch. You know you are nestled firmly amongst the football intelligentsia when the entire room is ROTFL to jokes whose punchlines center on a player being Andalusian, Basque or Catalan.
- But no matter how connected to soccer these people are, by and large they don't appear to be connected to American soccer at all. Not the Africans, not the Americans, not the African-Americans. When one person mentioned the U.S. team the room let out a collective laugh that is probably still echoing around the room 24 hours later; it's always depressing when people so passionate and knowledgeable are so dismissive.