There are approximately six and a half billion of us humans on planet Earth. Of those, one billion of us go hungry every day with some 14 million children dying every year through lack of food and clean drinking water. That's equivalent to nearly three holocausts every year, or 770 million children who have starved to death since I've

been alive. Of course these figures only include children. The statistics are far more damning if we were to include adults.

Another one billion of us experience the humiliation of experiencing hunger at regular intervals during our lifetime.The next two billion of us humans live a life just above the subsistence level, experiencing uncertain employment prospects, minimal education opportunities and desperately poor shanty housing that have been thrown up around the edges of our ever expanding cities. We have no welfare safety net to protect us from the ravages of ill health, unemployment and old age. We simply toil until we drop. A further two billion of us citizens of planet Earth might consider ourselves rather fortunate in that we have never known real hunger. We have access to reasonable health and education facilities and our housing is relatively secure. Most important of all, we have enough of the basic requirements of survival to allow us the luxury of dreaming for an even better future. Even then, we so called fortunate ones continue to live in the shadow of economic uncertainty. The next recession, the next global depression is never far away. After a lifetime of patient social and economic advancement, we can find ourselves on the economic scrape-heap in an instant. That leaves us with the remaining half a billion humans whose wealth, relative to the rest of us, is so vast that it must be considered totally obscene. These half billion citizens are extremely well connected so their privileged position is rarely threatened. This global elite has two key challenges; to deploy their wealth in such a way so as to ensure their continuance at the pinnacle of human affairs and secondly to find ever new ways of relieving the boredom produced by their extreme affluence. Where does sport fit in with this grim picture of social and economic extremes? Two opposing but equally seductive arguments can be constructed. The first is simple: faced with the grotesque levels of poverty on the planet and the equally grotesque extremes of wealth, sport must be considered as nothing more than a criminal diversion from the pressing tasks that confront humanity. Sport has become a giant global circus, a never-ending soap opera, whose prime purpose is to distract us from the shaming socio-economic statistics of dire global poverty and under-development. In an illuminating text that I'd pick up a few years back entitled, 50 Facts That Should Change The World(Jessica Williams, Icon Books, 2004), just re-reading a few of the 50 entries was enough to consolidate the case against our preoccupation with sport. For example, One in five of the world's people lives on less than $1 a day while at the same time, In 2001 13.2 million Americans had some form of plastic surgery. Or consider, There are 44 million child labourers in India while, the golfer Tiger Woods is the World's highest paid sportsman. He earns $78 million a year or $148 per second. These comparisons are truly sobering. Another example: Every day, one in five of the world's population go hungry, while at the very same time, seven million American women and one million American men suffer from an eating disorder. The grim statistics keep rolling on. A third of the world's population is at war, and equally shocking, More than 70% of the world's population have never heard a dial tone. Or consider,America spends $10 billion on pornography every year- the same amount it spends on foreign aid. You want more? There are 27 million slaves in the world today and 120,000 women and girls are trafficked into Western Europe every year.The state of our planet is so miserable that those of us in the top one third, excluding the elite, have little choice but to develop a hard and cynical exterior, whereby we throw a few coins into the charity box and then shrug our shoulders. What more can we do? We ourselves are daily struggling to keep ourselves out of the swamp. We feel ashamed that with all the technology and medical science at our disposal, we allow so many of our fellow citizens to waste away in abject poverty, but it is not possible to live with that sort of shame. Cruelty to the child down the road is something we can comprehend and do something about. Cruelty to an entire planet is beyond us. Instead we busy ourselves with who will win this or that game, this or that race. While we know that somehow we are complicit, the bigger forces that run the world reduce us to impotence. As the life expectancy in the developed world moves inexorably towards the one hundred mark, huge swathes of the planet's population are seeing their life expectancy plummet to levels akin to those of the middle ages. Faced with our acceptance of such an inequitable world, future historians can only condemn our current preoccupation with all things sporting as heartless, obscene and criminal. There is however, a very different perspective on where we are and where we are going with this sporting thing. Zooming in on Thomas Friedman's book, The World Is Flat (Penguin Books, 2005), his persuasive thesis argues that the globalised economy is producing a globalised community and the new communication technologies are inevitably drawing all six and a half billion of us into one flat global village. With this globalised economy comes a globalised culture complete with McDonalds, Coca Cola and Nike. The English Premier League, The Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and F1 all become global brands and the top athletes sell themselves to the highest bidder. Everything and everyone becomes a commodity. But it is argued, despite the ugliness and unevenness of it all, globalisation, sport included, smashes down barriers; national, religious and cultural. The World Wide Web, the internet and mobile phone technology are enabling ever more citizens to access knowledge and the benefits that accrue. A village computer with an internet connection can create visions and opportunities that were inconceivable in many parts of the world just twenty years ago. As the connectivity of the world increases, sport is a key part of the glue that increasingly binds us all together.So which of the two scenarios best describes where humanity is at? Are we perpetually locked into an exploitative system whereby the wealthy elite stay that way by virtue of their continued plunder of the rest of humanity, and sport remains a useful diversion for both rich and poor. Or alternatively, are we embarking, through technology and political will, into a new era of globalised cooperation, whereby, slowly but surely, ever greater numbers of the planet's population get drawn into an interconnected flat world with sport playing a vanguard role in the development of a universal culture of opportunity and aspiration for all? This question is posed acutely given the impending FIFA World Cup in South Africa in just a few months time. Does the first World Cup on the African continent herald a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor or will it be business as usual? In a revealing article in The Observer by Alex Duval Smith 15/11/09, Smith outlines how the South African football authorities have been ordered/persuaded by FIFA to replace South African grass for European grass because it will look a better colour on our TV screens! Responding to this piece of colonial dictate from FIFA a Sowetan columnist had this to say. The World cup is a jamboree which will make money for a few South Africans who are rich already. It serves purely to show the Europeans that the natives are still here to service their playground. Taking our grass away is the biggest insult yet. For this correspondent the World Cup offers nil legacy. Daily Mail correspondent, Laura Williamson was getting a similar message from South Africa (Daily Mail 11/11/09) Quoting a local school teacher from Cape Town we learn, We thought the World cup was going to help us, but its getting nearer and nothing has changed. It will be one of those World Cups that we watch on TV. In a similar tone, a president of a local football association in Cape Town had this to say. I say it unapologetically, that for us, 2010 is pie in the sky. Its something non existent.So the early omens are not good. A rich mans carnival while the people of Africa remain passive spectators with a nil legacy. Sounds rather like the London Olympics 2012. The world remains decidedly unflat.End JPK 15/11/09Reply to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Last Updated ( Monday, 28 May 2018 16:11 )