The always-worthwhile FAKE SIGI (and no, I don't know who he is either; the man is practically Greta Garbo)(or maybe he really is Sigi and he's giving us the psyche; wouldn't that be wild?) has a piece up about ESPNs' somewhat overheated coverage of the stampede at the Nigeria/North Korea tuneup match at Makhulong Stadium outside Johannesburg.
He's right that the network played to their ingrained stereotypes of how any soccer crowd is essentially a riot waiting to happen and points out that coverage from the BEEB is much more "even-handed" including some actual, you know, "facts" as opposed to ESPNs' utterly unfair "Such chaos is not uncommon to soccer" meme. "Not uncommon" would seem to mean, by definition "common" and, frankly, that's just not true. They really wanted to use the word "rampant" but couldn't quite gin up the stones, I'm sure.
(Of course for the North Koreans it must have been a real eye-opener; they're much more used seeing people trying to escape from someplace. People flocking to get in is a whole new experience. But that's a tale for another day.)
A dispassionate look at what actually occurred shows that first and foremost this was not a World Cup venue so the security arrangements were considerably relaxed. Beyond that, there are two conflicting stories out there now; one says that a Nigeria fan ran off a big pile of copied tix (although the tickets themselves were free, there were only 8000 of them) and passed them around to his countrymen.
The other story is that a few thousand totally wasted Nigeria fans showed up and simply stormed the place. (We know for a fact that it wasn't North Korea fans, since they are few and far between. Dear Leader is allowing only 200 of his slaves to travel to the tournament and has apparently peddled the balance of his 12,000 ticket allotment on, shall we say "the secondary market")
Either way, 16 people were injured, the game was briefly halted (although the players never even left the pitch) and, essentially, all it amounted to was a crowd of vacationing partiers with a load of booze on board getting into some pushing and shoving matches with each other not, as ESPN tried to imply, a reprise of Hillsborough.
The key point to you and I - that the local police responded immediately and in force and order was restored very, very quickly - goes unmentioned in the typical ESPN "crazed, violent soccer fans on a rampage" take.
The thing is though that while ESPN has a massive investment in this tournament - there are currently over 300 ESPN employees on location there even though the matches don't start for another five days - that doesn't mean that we can expect them to stop being who they are.
ESPN quit being a straight up "sports news" entity a long time ago. If you want it right down the middle of the plate (a metaphor they'd surely appreciate) go to ESPN News (CNN/SI was far better at this and nobody watched).
For example, yesterday morning on "Outside the Lines" they did an hour long investigation of the World Cup sex trade in South Africa, focusing particularly on the trafficking of underage sex slaves and how the hundreds of thousands of fans who are traveling to the Cup will apparently spend much of the time between matches paying money to Nigerian gangsters for 20 minutes alone with a kidnapped 14 year old Zambian girl covered in welts and burn marks.
Now I take a back seat to no one in my personal outrage at this kind of thing and pray that there's a particularly hot place in hell waiting for the kind of people who promulgate and/or patronize same. I also recognize that ESPN is simply trying to be socially responsible and all of that.
Yet when the Superbowl is held in, say, Miami, do they troll the streets loking for this kind of sordid stuff? Using helpless, terrified, often illegally-smuggled women as merchandise to be bought, sold and rented is not a phenomenon exclusive to Africa. As much as we don't like to acknowledge it, this kind of thing goes on in every major city in the US and in Europe and, well, everyplace else.
Yet, somehow, it's passed ESPNs' notice until now. Putting it in Africa and connecting it with soccer, you suddenly get a tale that ESPN is motivated to tell.
On the other hand, there are some stories which ESPN might be reporting on but won't.
For example, the now-standard CLEAR OUT THE POOR PEOPLE routine which has become more or less standard at major world sporting events (see: Olympics, Beijing, et. al.) and which, probably for that reason, isn't the least bit sexy.
The fact that in the RSA the hypocrisy is particularly glaring because of the enormous amount of resources which have been sunk into facilities which will be nothing more than useless white elephants a couple of months from now doesn't seem to be of interest to anybody.
Conversely, a story which has enormous entertainment - even comedic - possibilities is being carefully shoved under the rug, namely the sexual escapades of South African President Jacob Zuma.
It seems the President is a randy sort.
Of course it may not help that wife #2 ,named Ntuli, is pregnant with what is almost certainly the child of her former bodyguard.
It is in fact certain enough that rather than face the traditional punishment for diddling a chiefs' wife said bodyguard recently killed himself.
Then, again by custom, Ntuli reportedly presented Zuma with a goat in a traditional "cleansing ceremony". The goat was eaten and this supposedly puts and end to it, a custom which would certainly have some utility in our country but we'll stick to the topic at hand for now.
In any case, Ntuli - who is the youngest and "least popular" of Zumas' wives - was apparently very upset in January when she learned he was taking wife #3, Thobeka, with whom he already had three children.
Ntuli, who has Winnie Mandela’s habit of assuming that her celebrity allows her to run up large bills at luxury shops and then not paying them, has ironically become something of a heroine to South African feminists because, as one of them said “After all, Zuma has children out of wedlock with other girls, so Ntuli has simply repaid him in his own coin. We should be proud of her.”
(His second wife, Kate Mantsho, with whom he had five children, committed suicide, leaving a note saying that Zuma had made her life "a living hell". He is divorced from his third wife, Nkosazana Dlamini, who is currently the Home Affairs Minister. Don't ask.)
In February - and here's where it really gets good - it was learned that President Zuma had impregnated Sonono Khoza, the daughter of Ivan Khoza, a close personal freind and political ally and who, not coincidentally, is the President of the 2010 World Cup Organizing Committee.
This will be "official" child # 21 for the President (the actual count is undetermined, but could be approaching the population of Rhode Island), in a country where a lot of people are having trouble feeding one or two and the official government policy in light of the rampant AIDS epidemic is to encourage the practice of safe sex. Plus, the government is on the hook for the care and support of said wives and children. Apparently there is no constitutional stipulation limiting the number of either.
The ruling ANC is apparently extremely unhappy about Zuma bcoming an object of public ridicule and are very nervous about the scene at the World Cup opening ceremonies with his wives and children tagging along.
They are concerned that this will present exactly the image of the Republic of South Africa that they are desperate to avoid. And there's no word on how Ivan Khoza, who as head of the Organizing Committee will also be there, feels about his close friend knocking up his daughter. Presumably, he's not exactly thrilled.
Talk about a "human interest story", this one's got it all: Sex and...well, and more sex. Way too much, in fact.
But sadly, ESPN probably won't be mentioning it.