Rob Houwing

RWC most credible of them all

2011-09-20 12:08
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing

I suppose your favourite brand of World Cup may depend to a good degree on your sporting code of primary liking.

As a multi-sport writer and thus reasonably even-terms follower of rugby, cricket and soccer in the major team pursuits we’re most accustomed to monitoring in our country, all three command my appeal - even if the overkill factor can be increasingly irksome as novelty value is seriously compromised on the money-spinning treadmill that is the professional era.

It is stating the obvious to say that soccer’s World Cup does, easily, remain the one that most truly makes the world stand still for it: I remember being based in Hong Kong (not exactly the foremost hotbed of the game) in 1994 and the US-staged jamboree that year came at you from all quarters.

Taxi drivers usually reluctant to engage you in anything but Cantonese - so you very quickly learn how to say “left”, “right”, “straight ahead” and “stop here please” in local lingo - would suddenly produce startlingly fluent English to inquire whether you were planning to watch, say, Italy v Nigeria that night, and every Mass Transit Railway (tube) station had dozens of ceiling-mounted televisions in their concourses showing live broadcasts or highlights all day as commuters would pause to gawp the action and unashamedly be 15 minutes late for work.

But with every football World Cup these days, I quite clearly sense, comes diminishing gravitas as a school of thought swells that club rather cynically eclipses country these days given the super-salaries the cream of the planet’s players command with the former.

Representing your country at soccer, alas, has almost become that “top-up nuisance” on your agenda if you are, for instance, Cristiano Ronaldo, a weighty commercial brand in your own right and quite able and arrogant enough - as he did very recently - to basically state: “I’m only booed because I’m handsome, rich and hugely talented.”

When I watched the hugely-hyped Spain v Portugal meeting at Cape Town Stadium during the 2010 World Cup, I remember specifically noting just how glaringly disinterested and detached from the ultimately rather laborious proceedings Ronaldo looked.

The soccer World Cups that stand out more in my memory bank than more recent ones (yes, even if I do not have television ammunition for back-up in some instances) are 1974, when a quite sublime Dutch side just could not get over the line, 1966 and the Geoff Hurst controversy between two bitter, wartime rivals, and a couple of the powerfully Pele-stamped tournaments.

Egos are mercifully a little less balloon-sized than today’s footballing ones at cricket’s World Cup, with someone like premier international icon Sachin Tendulkar famously unaffected, so many people insist, by stardom despite his own vast appeal in populous India.

But that event is plagued by some structural and other limitations - one important one being that this World Cup is only a reflection of 50-overs supremacy in a cricketing landscape that still has the Test arena commanding exalted status (at least for the time being, thank goodness) and now a Twenty20 world championship sideshow to contemplate as well.

And cricket’s sad, frankly burgeoning reputation for being tainted by match-fixing or at least micro-manipulations to suit tawdry pockets - especially at limited-overs level - hardly helps elevate its World Cup to any spiritual greatness.

Which leaves us with “RWC”: I must say I have been even more grabbed by the 2011 event in the fair land of New Zealand than I thought I would be.

Pretty much to a man, those who turn out for the realistic contenders for the Webb Ellis Cup clearly yearn ever-hungrily and passionately to be standing on that winners’ podium in Auckland on October 23.

 There are no significant distractions, either personally or collectively: winning rugby’s World Cup is as good as it can possibly get for them, whether they are high or relatively humdrum earners from the game.

And this year’s tournament, at least so far, has been marked by the less fashionable countries pleasingly not succumbing to RWC’s traditional main weakness: concession of farcical, often three-figure scores to juggernaut nations. Why, even the all-minnow matches have had substantial appeal for their sheer “gees” and atmosphere.

It’s been a pleasure observing the rugged, bodies-smack-on-the-line commitment of the Georgians, who so nearly got a losing bonus point against Scotland and then outrageously bossed more than 55 percent of territory against England, and the eye-opening skills, despite his still-amateur status, of someone like Namibian midfielder Danie van Wyk.

You would think Van Wyk’s day job - not the worst as an engineering employee of the brewers of Windhoek Lager, I’d venture - may soon become vacant once more.

And how about the scrambling, sweat-pouring devotion to duty of the Japanese, so obviously short of big timber in some key positions but ultra-determined to compensate in other areas and adopt an unyielding motto of “never total surrender” even as they await another conversion attempt by superpower opponents?

Nor have I yet heard a single RWC combatant poncily boasting with a straight face, a la the uncharming Ronaldo, that he may well be the most beautifully-sculpted creation to grace the rugby world.

I leave you with this thought: could it just be that rugby’s World Cup is the only one actually showing signs of getting better and more appealing with the passage of time?
Rob is Sport24's chief writer.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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