Originally published on CBC.ca
I was invited to watch the opening ceremony of the World Cup at a special event arranged by the South African High Commission. Our host put on a great show which included an impromptu congo line to the beat of Shakira's Waka Waka, as well as a giant stuffed Zakumi (the Official World Cup mascot).
Before the opening kick-off, the South African and Mexican Ambassadors exchanged some pleasant banter. Both men wished the other's team luck while deftly noting that a buffer zone lay between their respective seating arrangements.
Cheers broke out as the tournament got under way. Even with the large screen, all of us kept moving forward, abandoning our tables, eager to be as close as possible to the action. The opening minutes appeared to confirm the general suspicion that Mexico would prove the stronger side, causing difficulty for us neutrals who were secretly cheering for South Africa.
And then, just past the 30th minute, the jig was up; the room went silent as Mexican forward, Carlos Vela tapped the ball into the South African net. You could feel the disappointment in the room; even the Mexican delegation was reluctant to celebrate.
But then the referee whistled offside, disallowing the goal, sending the room back into cheers. Even the Mexican ambassador began to chuckle as we all debated the merits of the referee's decision.
This is the power of the World Cup. It brings us together and breaks down the social barriers that divide us. It reminds us of everything that we have in common and by doing so it affords us the possibility to start connecting with each other and build relationships. It's exciting to know that there were over 500,000,000 other viewers watching the same game as me. Now imagine what they have to say.