The marketers like to trumpet the Olympic Games as the globe’s biggest sporting event, but the World Cup frequently garners more television viewers. Soccer is also the only true world game played everywhere, from the slums of Rio to the playgrounds of England and the beaches of tiny island nations.
Even though Bafana Bafana won’t be there, having lost their way during qualifying, we support the traditional big teams anyway, whether Germany, Spain, Brazil or England. We’ll all be watching and willing on our favourites.
The Russian experience will be different, for sure. Distances between the major cities are massive, rampant nationalism, and its associated problems, is a stark reality and insularity prevails across this vast land, from where this column was written, incidentally.
If there are concerns over potential racism and crowd trouble, it’s true, too, that sport often sweeps people up in its glory. We become ridiculously friendly and happy, our problems momentarily forgotten. Let us hope.
What’s more, militia are to be found everywhere and it will be a brave fan who steps out of line.
Back at home, a thrilling end to summer awaits as India arrive for a full 12-match cricket tour, to be followed by Australia. That’s a little like waiting ages for a bus to arrive, only for two to do so at once, but it’s a terrific way to reinvigorate the sport locally after a tough few months.
India will offer a curious challenge, unable to fall back on their home comforts, but bolstered by outstanding stalwarts like Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
New Proteas coach Ottis Gibson will have his smarts tested early on and there will be little respite, with Australia following soon after for a four-match Test series. The mongrel within ensures they are never easily beaten.
If South African rugby emerges into the blinding light of 2018 with a long-standing bloody nose, things won’t get easier. There’s a new-fangled Super Rugby tournament beginning in February. It’s been chopped down to size from 18 to 15 teams, but all the old variables remain, such as bruising travel, the tricky conference system and wild card places. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Things will heat up mid-year when Eddie Jones’ rampant England arrive for a three-match tour. Things are never dull when England and their press corps come to town. For all his flippancy and geniality, Jones is a fierce competitor who will prepare England well and fully expect them to win 3-0.
It’s a frightening prospect, because it might well happen given his excellence and the parlous state of the Springboks. The English will dine out on it for years and it will be sackcloth and ashes for us.
After the reawakening of local athletics in 2017, new year ambitions will focus on the Gold Coast of Australia where the Commonwealth Games will be held. We’ll likely pick up a couple of medals across a range of sports, but in truth it’s an anachronistic event that doesn’t quite reveal the true depth of a nation’s athletic prowess.
No matter. Superstars like Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk, provided he recovers from a nasty knee injury, will elevate the Games and doubtless get us all excited. Perhaps a new star or two will emerge.
South Africa’s golfers have always punched above their weight, but it’s been a while since we last had a winner in the majors, Ernie Els having won the Open in 2012.
After his heroics at the 2017 Open and subsequent success at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, Branden Grace could be the next local to make a breakthrough. Ranked in the top 30, he has the game and the temperament to follow contemporaries like Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
There’s a world of promise to come and my wish for the year is for administrators to stop hogging the headlines. What we need are visionaries and pioneers, people who nourish sport and truly love it.
It’s a forlorn hope, I know, but it is the season of giving.
Roll on 2018.