A kinder view
It has been almost two weeks since FIFA President Sepp Blatter opened the celebrated envelope and discovered with the world the fate of the 2010 World Cup. One week before that, I took the liberty of writing on behalf of the Al- Ahram Weekly team, voicing the paper's belief in Egypt's chances and abilities of hosting the 2010 Mondial.
When I wrote I did so with conviction, based not only on my evolution from a football atheist to someone who fervently believes in both the World Cup and hosting it, but also on the FIFA report released 10 days prior to FIFA's announcement at its Zurich headquarters.
It did not require literary prowess to interpret the 90- page document. The picture was clear to football fans and journalists around the world. The day after its release, sports page headlines across the globe noted that while South Africa was in first place in the running, Egypt was close behind. Morocco, the world interpreted through the FIFA breakdown, was for the fourth time out of the running.
Seven months ago, the Weekly introduced a "Twenty-Ten page" as part of a public effort to support Egypt's bid campaign. Having decided to campaign not necessarily by covering football but by writing about the nation's richness as a whole, our "2010" activities involved the majority of the staff.
So, on that Saturday afternoon of 15 May, the staff gathered in the layout and design room of the newspaper to wait anxiously for the results. If we were in second place a week ago, we reasoned, fate may notch us up a step.
Disappointment only partially describes the initial feeling evoked upon seeing "South Africa" on the final ballot card. Perhaps disbelief, deceit, sheer dismay better encapsulate the mood in the ensuing hours, indeed days.
South Africa took the host honours with 14 votes. Morocco came in second with 10. That left Egypt, clearly, with none.
"Egypt was never in the final running," Blatter was quoted in the foreign press the following day. "I don't know where they got that idea from."
Apparently Blatter was right. There was, to be polite, intrigue at Egypt's presence in Zurich. Our senior sports editor, covering the event from FIFA's Zurich headquarters, expressed disappointment and humiliation at the way Egypt had been received.
As journalists, though, we must be objective and properly assess Egypt's 2010 bid campaign. Perhaps we were not as organised, as polished, as professional as South Africa and Morocco. And perhaps our country could not buy the luxuries the others could afford. And perhaps, as well, it will take a few more bid attempts to get it right.
The "ifs", I suppose, are many, and one cannot theorise on what could have happened if we had approached things differently.
This should not be perceived as a loss but rather as a lesson. This should be a reality check on global politics and how they play (pardon the pun) into sport.
What evolved in the weeks before the decision was clearly a political game. Rather than being provided a clear portrayal of how the bidding nations stand, Egypt, and in fact one-sixth of the world's population (those that comprise football's fan contingency), was conned. For inexplicable reasons, the 90-page document was drafted in the way it was, and for more obscure reasons FIFA felt compelled to mislead Egypt in the way it did.
For months both FIFA, South Africa, and prominent figures in the football world stressed the importance of a fair and honest 2010 race. Words, it is clear, hold little worth when such big bucks are involved. Six months after the Weekly launched its own campaign, the unfortunate reality has been shoved in our face: the 2010 World Cup was all about money and power.
The frustration of politics aside, as someone who campaigned openly for our country, the experience has been most gratifying. It forced me to open my eyes, properly delve into the country's cultural, historic, intellectual prowess, and objectively assess where we really stand. Rather than focus on critique, and the normal frustrations every citizen too easily associates with his or her country of residence, I was forced to observe my country as an outsider would. And based on that, I still believe we are capable of hosting a great World Cup. And I know that one day we will.