I just bought this book at Borders during lunch, by New Yorker writer Bill Buford, and the first two chapters are amazing. Basically, he follows English low-life hooligans around as they wreak havoc on everything. And "Among the Thugs" is a fantastic title. I'm creeped out, interested, and frightened all at once. It's the perfect way to greet opening World Cup day. I'll probably read the entire thing tonight.
So. In a previous post, I went on record as questioning South Africa's viability as a host nation for the World Cup. It's time now to check in with the South Africa World Cup Disaster Watch. There still hasn't been a truly horrific incident, but the list of "minor" troubles is growing. The roster:
1) The Nigeria-South Korea stampede
2) A journalist was held up at gunpoint, and two others were robbed.
3) Four Chinese journalist were robbed on the street. (Quote from the article: "The four scribes were approached by a 'several armed black people' after they pulled over to the side of the road en route to an interview in their rented car Wednesday, the Beijing News said." I hope the victims had more to offer when the police quizzed them on the assailants' descriptions...)
4) A Chilean reporter was robbed. (Article en espanol.)
5) Greek players had money stolen from their hotel room.
6) This one is particularly disturbing, and I'll just quote the first paragraph: "Johannesburg – Police guarding the English team’s World Cup training camp arrested an off-duty officer after a high-speed chase down the wrong side of the road near the team’s hotel, media said on Wednesday." That just about says it all; the guy was apparently a colonel and a senior officer. Yikes.
The main lesson so far: don't be a journalist in South Africa. Statistics show that members of the media are the victim in 60% of all World Cup crimes.
Speaking of crime and soccer violence, British police are trying to stay ahead of the game by arresting a bunch of home-grown hooligans before they can leave for South Africa. These were the guys who wouldn't turn in their passports, despite a banning order that required 3,143 of them to do just that. But 25,000 English supporters will still be heading south while the government holds its collective breath; they have a future World Cup bid on the line.
Here's an article called "Football is War," another good read about how athletic passion has led people, and even nations, out of control. Thanks to Jake for the link. It's incredible how fucking crazy and awful European soccer fans can be. I mean, this excerpt really says it all:
The football stadium became a kind of reservation where taboos on tribal frenzy and even racial antagonism could be relaxed, but only up to a point: when the taunting of Ajax supporters as rotten Jews degenerated into actual violence, sometimes accompanied by a collective hiss, mimicking escaping gas, the city authorities decided to step in. Some games have had to be played without the presence of rival supporters.
In a bizarre way, it kind of makes me proud to be American. At least our sports fans are (mostly) civilized. Most of the time, the worst story of the year is something from Philadelphia like a fat kid purposefully throwing up on a little girl, or a dude being tased for running on the field. Maybe an overturned car or two, and some random fires. Good, clean fun. None of this frenzied murder or intense racism. God bless the stars and stripes!
That's it for now. Polish your vuvuzelas, and let your deep hatred of other nations bubble to the surface. It's World Cup time.