World Cup: South Africa Shows the World How Soccer Is Celebrated

President Barack Obama places a 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom around his neck of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
South Africa's Tsepo Masilela, right, competes for the ball with Mexico's Ricardo Osorio, left, during the World Cup group A soccer match.
Themba Hadebe

The sportswriters paid homage to copy and paste.

Who among them could have stood in a Spelling Bee and spelled Sisphiwe Tshabalala?

His was the opening goal of World Cup Finals 2010. It was beautifully taken, with a short sharp strike into the top right hand corner of the net.

But Tshabalala was not the star of a hugely uplifting day in South African history, when the hosts drew with Mexico 1-1.

That was Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

He's fought for human rights for all his life.

He's been awarded a peace prize and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But medals and peace prizes are mere pieces of silver compared to this.

When Tshabalala's left foot kicked the door of supposed South African inferiority off its hinges, Archbishop Tutu, a team scarf around his neck, stood and applauded.

Oh, of course he didn't.

He danced.

His hips swiveled like a belly dancer's. His arms made like Beyonce on a very good night. As he shuffled up and down the stands, his eyes told of a joy that most black South Africans could never have imagined would enter their veins.

Can you imagine, for example, the Archbishop of New York offering some kind of samba during Saturday's USA/England duel? If you can, then might I suggest you cease your fondness for tequila-chased beer for at least the remainder of this World Cup?

Archbishop Tutu expressed what every black South African felt.

Yes, in 1995 South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup and won it.

But that's the white man's game. A game of brutality and crude subterfuge worthy of supposed gentlemen and actual farmers.

Soccer is the game for everyone played by everyone.

Soweto's field of dreams was an open field with rectangular goals at either end. Grass was a luxury. The ball might well have made out of rubber bands. It might well have been a tin can.

So as South Africa took to a perfect field Friday, to play with a ball designed by the world's most advanced scientists, the dream wasn't merely fielded.

It was realized before the world's eyes.

When the Archbishop stopped dancing and the crowds went home, they might have contemplated that South Africa should have won.

President Barack Obama places a 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom around his neck of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

In the first half, the players' nerve endings poked through their shirts. In the second, they had the chances to beat a Mexican team that flattered, then revealed it had bought its shirts at the Emperor's store.

The South Africans gave away a goal because their captain, Aaron Mokoena, forgot to move up with the rest of his men, playing three Mexicans onside.

But still, they could have won if only, with just a minute to go, Katiego Mphela had enjoyed the perfect footwork of Archbishop Tutu.

Put through after his goalkeeper's punt, all he needed to do was maintain his balance and choose where to put the ball before rushing away towards permanent adulation.

The wonderful HD images from ESPN allowed us to see the face of Mexico goalkeeper Oscar Gomez as it told of his impending pain.

Instead, Mphela was too, too uncertain. He shot weakly against the post, and South Africa had to settle for a draw.

The Bafana Bafana, as the South African team is known, can still fulfill their (ba)fans' impossible thoughts. Especially given that France and Uruguay drew without so much as a goal.

Whether they manage it or not, one of their Ambassadors to Heaven reminded the world that free, boundless joy does exist.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is 78. I hope he dances again.

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

    He currently advises major global companies about content creation and marketing, through his company Howard Raucous LLC.

    He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.