POTUS to Hit (Maybe Racist, Maybe Backward) World Cup


President Obama has accepted an invitation to the opening ceremony of the first World Cup to be held on the African Continent, according to the head of FIFA, the world soccer federation. From ESPN:

President Obama, whose late father was Kenyan, has indicated he will attend the event on June 11 next year when the first World Cup to be staged on African soil begins.

[FIFA president Joseph] Blatter told a media briefing: "The World Cup in Africa will go well, there is no doubt.


It will be a joyous celebration, no doubt, that will bring hundreds of thousands of soccer fanatics and pilgrims face to face with the African subcontinent—including fans as high-profile as the US president. For this, FIFA planners (and local economies) should be thankful. But like the 2008 Olympic Games in China, the 2010 World Cup will spotlight, for better or worse, a nation still in transition from a history of racial unrest and stunted development and intense poverty and disease. In Beijing, the Chinese government took extraordinary measures to clean up the air and the streets for the global audience. And South Africa is getting to experience a dry run during the But is South Africa ready? A recent burglary suggests maybe not:

The burglary happened two days after a bar at the newly-built Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth was robbed by five armed men during a rugby match. The stadium will be used for the 2010 World Cup.

Security is the most highly-publicized issue regarding South Africa’s preparations. Officials of the local organizing committee bristle at repeated questions about the safety of the 450,000 expected visitors for the World Cup. Surely, these questions won’t stop, though, as long as the teams and the stadiums themselves appear vulnerable to crime.

Full disclosure: I am also attending the World Cup in Cape Town—and have made no special accomodations for chaos (though I've been before, and toughed it out in Nigeria, man!) But Sherrilyn Ifill points out a few more reasons to sweat about the clash of teams and civilizations in the quadrennial event:

What’s most disturbing about ongoing racism in soccer is the seeming inability of FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association), international soccer’s governing body, to get a handle on the problem. Rather than admit FIFA’s failure to protect black players from this abuse in the workplace, FIFA President Joseph Blatter, an Austrian, has criticized Onyewu for filing suit, arguing that the American player should make his complaints within the organization and allow FIFA to handle the problem.

This obstructionist is the same Blatter who confirmed Obama's participation in the historic sporting event.

This begs the questoin: In the face of these controversies, real and potential—what responsibility does Obama have to speak out?



Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.