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Sports

Football in South Africa is very loud - and very colorful

This summer's World Cup will provide an insight into South Africa's unique football-watching customs. The volume of the vuvuzela and a wash of national yellow and green promise to bombard the senses.

South African fans with vuvuzelas and flags at the ready

South African fans are ready to give a warm welcome

South Africa is, undoubtedly, a sport-mad land. Yet soccer has to compete for its place in the limelight. "Rugby is at least equally important, and cricket plays a big role as well," says World Cup organizational advisor Horst R. Schmidt.

Soccer, both in terms of playing and supporting it, has principally been the passion of the country's black population. Lucas Radebe, the former South African national team captain, points to the opportunities soccer "offers those who are from unprivileged places, who live in townships. It is the only way to escape the poverty."

Lucas Radebe, the former Kaizer Chiefs player and South African captain

Radebe, former Kaizer Chief and national team captain

Radebe himself was born in the Soweto township outside Johannesburg, and played for the Soweto side Kaizer Chiefs, before being signed by Leeds United in England. SuperSport United are currently the top team in South Africa, and fellow Pretoria side Mamelodi Sundowns have been the most regular winners of the 16-team Premier Soccer League.

But "Kaizer Chiefs are definitely the top club, who have the most fans," says Rainer Dinckelacker, a goalkeeping coach from Germany who lives in Soweto. "Here Kaizer Chiefs are, so to speak, a religion." It is estimated the club has 14 million fans. Up to 40,000 of them pack in to watch them on a regular basis, compared to crowds of only a couple of thousand for other clubs."

A test for the eardrums

The essential accompaniment for any serious South African football fan is the vuvuzela. Formerly made out of brass and used to convene village gatherings, the vuvuzela horn now comes in a more affordable plastic form.

The cacophony of sound they make when played by the thousands will take some getting used to for overseas fans at the World Cup this summer. "It will be a uniquely South African World Cup, although a number of people will complain about the racket during games," said South Africa's tourist minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk. "As FIFA President Sepp Blatter said - listen to the African continent. Football is a loud affair."

Kaizer Chiefs fans with their vuvuzelas

Kaizer Chiefs supporters never go far without their trusty vuvuzela

An atmosphere to rival the jubilation in Germany four years ago is on the cards, especially if the South African team get off to a successful start in the tournament. "If the South Africans see their boys winning, then they will go wild with celebration," says coach Dinckelacker. A South African soccer exuberance is ready to wash over the World Cup."

A sea of yellow and green

The tournament's organizers have also sought to encourage those who weren't previously active football fans to get behind their national side. "Football Friday" was launched last year - an initiative in which South Africans are encouraged to wear the colors of "Bafana Bafana", or "the boys", as the national team are nicknamed, on the final day of each working week. Government departments in Pretoria were among the first employers to back the scheme, which also sees many employees sporting the colors of the European club teams they support.

South African football fans in traditionally colorful attire

World Cup visitors might well find them a sight for sore eyes

Thami Banda, press officer for Pretoria's World Cup organizational team, is keen to keep the focus on the national team, though. "Coming ever closer to the kickoff, people must support Bafana Bafana more, and really get behind them," he says.

Under-12s football tournaments have been organized through Football Friday in the past, with processions of yellow and green planned for the weeks building up to the World Cup's opening game. South Africa will play Mexico on Friday June 11.

The scheme has not been met with complete positivity though. Many have complain about the price of Bafana Bafana jerseys, which are sold for around 200 rand, or 20 euros - a fortune for many South Africans.

Although Banda is aware this makes it difficult for some, he is certain the cost is worth it. "You simply can't say - the flag of my country is worth 20 rand. National pride has no price." Businesswoman Dimakatso Mashigo, wearing a South Africa football shirt to work every Friday leading up to the World Cup, agrees. "I have even bought some for my family," she said. "We're showing them that we're behind them."

Author: Arnulf Boettcher / Katrin Gaensler / tms
Editor: Matt Hermann

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