Holier Cow

After the first games of the Confederations Cup in South Africa last summer, Sepp Blatter was reported to be hopping mad about the constant, pulsating drone of the now-familiar vuvuzela, that "traditional African instrument" (a historical tribal tradition which seems to date back to the very dawn of 2001).

A day or two later, however, perhaps realizing that some fights really aren't worth the trouble, he had decided that the large, obnoxious plastic horns were a "joyous celebration" of African culture and that we all needed to respect and relish local footballing traditions.

Several teams objected to the noise, and TV broadcasters were concerned about how to make their announcers heard over the drone, but Blatter would brook no dissent.

Well, we're now about to find out just how deeply held Blatter's feelings really are in regard to the glories of local cultural traditions.

A gentleman named Zolani Mkiva, who is a member of the commission charged with providing an African cultural veneer to the 2010 World Cup is demanding that FIFA allow them to perform another charming local custom before the opening of the first match at every single one of the venues:

He intends to sacrifice a live cow. Right there in front of the gates. Cut its' throat and watch it bleed. As Mkiva says:

“We must have a cultural ceremony of some sort, where we are going to slaughter a beast...We sacrifice the cow for this great achievement and we call on our ancestors to bless, to grace, to ensure that all goes well. It’s about calling for the divinity to prevail for a fantastic atmosphere.

“We believe that from the start we’ve got to do things in accordance with our own traditions.”

Now lest you believe for a second that Mr. Mkiva is some kind of African fringe religious equivalent to snake handling and talking in tongeus, be advised that he is considered foremost amongst South Africa's imbongis, the poets and oral historians who served as walking chronicles and orators, passing along the stories and traditions handed dwon from generations of his fathers, a deeply respected and ancient position of great import.

He acted as imbongi at the official celebration of Nelson Mandelas' release from prison and in 1991 he was appointed Imbongi Yesiwe (Poet of the Nation) in which capacity he presided over Mandelas' inauguration as President.

In short, this guy is somebody. Here's a taste of the man at work:

[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phj7fcNwawA"]YouTube - África (Zolani Mkiva, Suráfrica)[/ame]

Powerful stuff, and just the kind of thing our man Sepp had in mind when he said he wanted a lot of "local color".

(Now it needs to be stressed that Mkiva is not an official of the World Cup in any way, but is merely part of one of the many advisory committees connected with the effort. Nonetheless, his position in South African society makes it impossible to simply blow him off.)

Sepp probably envisioned himself and Jack and the rest of the boys standing around looking interested while someone like Mkiva chanted or sang or recited something, possibly while waving colorful sticks, after which they'd pronounce themselves "deeply moved" before retiring to the nearest VVIP lounge to wash down some canapes with a few icy bottles of Dom.

Now, apparently, in order to be properly respectful of local customs, as Blatter swears he wants to be, they'll all assemble outside a stadium and try not to throw up as Elsie bleeds all over their carefully hand-stitched brogans.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait for the film on that one.

As for the ceremony itself, while I personally would want to be as far away from it as possible, if this is indeed an important indigenous cultural tradition, then it's pretty chauvenistic of the West to show up with their European cultural peculiarities (which are, of course, of recent vintage - many of our ancestors would have gleefully grabbed a machete and joined in, and brought the kids to watch) and demand that they discard their own for the sake of our tender sensibilities.

I'm guessing that Sepp will do whatever he can behind the scenes to get this idea quashed, but he should let it go: if we're having an African World Cup then let's have one, instead of a scrubbed up, sanitized Disneyland version where everyone carries jugs on their heads and calls Blatter "Bwana".

In for a dime, in for a dollar.

One group that may not need to worry about having to attend will be the German team.

The DFB's security officers have decreed that player movement outside of the hotels and locker rooms will be very strictly limited, and if they absolutely must venture out for some reason they are to BODY ARMOR and be accompanied by armed agents.

And I'm guessing that's just exactly the photo op Blatter is trying to avoid at all cost.

In other news from those Lovable Scamps at FIFA, the England bid committee, stung by Jack Warners' complaint that they had not provided federation poobahs with luxury-laden "goody bags" as had other hopefuls, took the message to heart.

So Andy Anson, CEO of Englands' bid, arranged for each of FIFAs' ExCo members to receive a beautiful handmade Mulberry handbag as a bribe - excuse me, I mean a gift - for which the FA paid over $500 a piece. Even Warner was impressed, and snapped his up to take home to Maureen.

For the record, FIFA bylaws state that

'Officials are not permitted to accept gifts and other benefits that exceed the average relative value of local cultural customs from any third parties.

A rule so broad one could drive a Bentley through it. But let's not give Jack any ideas.

In case you missed it, the US U17's DROPPED THEIR WQRLD CUP OPENER to Spain 2-1, despite a second minute sendoff of Spanish defender Sergi Gomez which had them playing a man down for virtually the entire game.

Next up: Thursday vs. Malawi.

So far the tournament has thankfully avoided anything like the kind of security related incident that organizers so greatly feared.

Which is not to say that things have gone without embarrassment.

Due to recent complaints that some nations were fielding over age players - and the "unreliability" of birth documents issued by governments who have, shall we say, something less than a formalistic view of these things - FIFA instituted a "wrist scan" system where, somehow or other, an MRI is taken of each player's wrist area which provides a very accurate reading of the subjects' age.

Host nation Nigeria initially complained that the tests were "unreliable" but FIFAs' medical and scientific staff assured them that is not the case after which Nigeria showed up for their first match with 15 brand new players, the others having, apparently, decided they were busy with something else.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

Reportedly Malawi, the US' next opponent, inexplicably lost 10 players from their roster who had to be replaced. Careless of them.

Finally, Sepp Blatter has decided to endorse the new "Free Kick Spray".

This product is unfortunately not a medicine for shooters with the yips but rather a sort of disappearing paint which refs can use to mark off the requisite ten yard zone in front of the kick taker.

According to the procedure used in various Latin American leagues, the referee paints a circle around the ball and then draws a line 9.15 meters away in line with the goal mouth.

Is it just me or is this completely ridiculous?

It seems to me that all that's needed to stop all this ludicrous "baby step" taking as the kick is about to be delivered is a few clouds of yellow cards. All this product - surprisingly NOT called "Backbone in a Can" - will do is slow down the game, give te referee something else he has to do while he should be supervising the players and make money for some manufacturer.

All that's ever been needed is alittle backbone: tell the defenders where they need to stand and warn them that if they move forward a single solitary millimeter they'll be seeing yellow.

But that's just me.