Take security in South Africa. Before the World Cup, media outlets around the world reported on the unsafe conditions in the country. The hijackings. The muggings. The shootings. Even though the country hired and trained an additional 45,000 security personnel, the story persisted. The country was unsafe.
Predicted foreign attendance plummeted from 450,000 visitors to 350,000. While the cost of the trip affected this number, some potential Cup-goers chose to avoid the 2010 World Cup because of the proliferation of horror stories.
Part of this reputation was deserved. Fifty people are killed here every day, the same number as in the United States, a country with six times the population. Crime is rampant in some parts of the cities. Car-jackings are a real threat. South Africa can be a scary place.
But five days into the tournament, while the soccer has been far from brilliant and attendance has been disappointing, visitors haven't suffered horrible fates at the hands of hardened criminals. A robbery or two here, a riot there, but the apocalypse remains at bay. The euphoria of a glorious first day has come and gone, and the long haul is just beginning, but Johannesburg isn't the war zone some portrayed it to be. Although security at the stadiums could be better, evildoers haven't perpetrated any horrible plots. There's a notable police presence.
Still, stories about safety concerns persist. It comes back to reputation. The World Cup in Germany didn't go off without a hitch, but a mugging in the European country was seen as simply a random occurrence. In South Africa, it's a systemic failure.
Which brings us to the Jabulani.
Even before the tournament began, players from countries around the globe attacked the ball with a fervor they usually reserve for free kicks. This isn't new -- there are issues with the ball before every tournament -- but the complaints have only grown louder since play began. "It's uncontrollable." "The ball does crazy things in the air." And so on.
Certainly, the adidas product behaves strangely at times. For one, it's very light. This winter, former United States Olympic team captain Brian Dunseth turned to me and said something to the effect of, "Man, that ball really flies," after skying a shot over the net in a pickup game at the apparel manufacturer's Portland, Oregon campus. The American team altered their strategy as a result.
The Jabulani can be hard to control. Fine. That doesn't mean, however, that it's at fault for Robert Green's howler against the U.S. Blame his error on poor positioning, pressure to excel, nerves, whatever, but not the ball. Although the Americans credited Clint Dempsey's goal to the strange flight of the ball, the netminder made a mess of the situation by his lonesome. Watch the replays if you need proof.
It's not just the England keeper's mistake. So far, excitement at the 2010 World Cup has been in short supply. Crosses fly over the heads of their target, while throughballs race across the touchline. Few players can get a handle on the situation, but pointing to the ball as the sole problem is absurd. The games are being played at altitude, often in the freezing cold and/or rain. Players are nervous. This is the World Cup after all.
In both the case of safety and football, it's tempting to single out a culprit. To do that would simplify problems that don't have easy solution. The Jabulani and a World Cup held in crime-ridden South Africa. They are a match made in, well, somewhere.
Noah Davis (@noahedavis) covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com and is reporting from the World Cup in South Africa.
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