Saturday, November 13, 2010

CAR: 2014 World Cup champion?

In June and July, when World Cup drama swallowed sports fans, Central Africans too followed the action – only from far beyond the sidelines, their country's team finishing in nearly last place in the FIFA rankings that determined who could take position on the field. Unfortunately, this year no one organized an alternative World Cup Final for the two last-place teams in the world, as an enterprising Dutchman did in 2002. In that match, Montserrat fell to Bhutan, and the result is perhaps the most genuinely uplifting sports film I've ever seen. (And this within the genre of sports films which, rightly or wrongly, prides itself on uplift.)

As the year's football/soccer teams have played on, however, CAR's has jumped from the doldrums to 112th position – the largest improvement made by any team the world over this year (from #202). First, the Central Africans tied Morocco. Then they played Algeria – the same Algeria that everyone watched eliminate Egypt for the World Cup, the same Algeria that came in second in the African Cup – at the Chinese-built stadium in Bangui and won. Never has Bangui seen such joy, such pride. (Incidentally, CAR also has a surprisingly good basketball team – any NBA scouts out there should take notice of this entirely untapped resource.)

My posts here tend toward the negative, confronted daily as I am by the myriad challenges that people here most overcome to achieve anything more than basic subsistence. So I am happy to be able to report this kernel of positive news among the rest. One can argue – rightly, in my view – that sports are far less important than fostering more substantive, and more widespread, political, economic and social opportunities. But, in the country that has attained last place in the World Bank's Doing Business rankings for two years straight, people relish the good news they can get.

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