Sono sees bright future for South Africa

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:32 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG -- There is a ongoing raging debate in South Africa.

When the World Cup wound down in fully developed countries such as France and Germany, the focus was all about the football and what transpired during the tournament.

That's not the case in South Africa.

With the 2010 World Cup winding down, the debate is all about its legacy and whether this tournament will have any long-term positive effects on South Africa , especially considering the enormous amount of money spent.

Everyone has an opinion but in the long run, the only opinion that counts is that of the people who remain after the tourists, media and teams are long gone. Those people will ultimately determine whether they use the benefits to move the country forward or whether it was nothing more than a month-long anomaly.

Jomo Sono is one of those who will be here long after the tournament is over. The name is familiar to North American football, especially Toronto. He called Toronto his second home.

His team in South Africa was asked to come to Toronto to play an exhibition game against Toronto FC. He plans to do it some time after the World Cup.

Sono is a former player with the Toronto Blizzard of the North American Soccer League. He also played on the 1977 New York Cosmos team that won the NASL championship, a team that featured Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia.

He is as sure about the positive long-term benefits of this tournament as he ws with a ball at his feet.

"This World Cup cleared up all the misconceptions that Africa cannot host anything," he said. "I am proud to be African. I can walk tall. I can walk anywhere in the world now as an African that we've proved to all the doubting Thomases that we can host a World Cup."

Known as "The Black Prince," Sono returned to South Africa where he carved out a wonderful post-playing career.

He coached the South African national team. He is now a successful businessman and owner and coach of the Jomo Cosmos, a team that plays in the South African Premier Soccer League.

He has become famous for developing young players and moving them along to high profile teams. Sono is a member of the FIFA technical team at this World Cup.

He is also a leader in the South African soccer community and embraces the legacy he believes the World Cup will leave for South Africa. In a country where not all the wounds of apartheid are scabbed over, Sono sees how the World Cup united this country. That alone is one of the greatest legacies.

"We've had problems in the country with the perception that football is black and rugby is white," he said. "With the World Cup here, everybody has been united. The rugby people are into soccer. We are into rugby. Rugby is playing in the township now. That would never have happened before. We hope the legacy is that we are united."

He talked of the joy of seeing blacks and whites sitting together at the games and how sport has united them.

"I'm not surprised because soccer is the No. 1 sport in the world. You can only unite a nation through soccer and sport," Sono said. "People don't see colour when they are watching football.

"(The fans), they jump around. They kiss each other. You see when Bafana, Bafana scores, you see a white lady kissing a black guy in the stands. It has united a nation."

There is still a football-rugby divide in South Africa.

With the myriad of new and improved stadiums in South Africa because of the World Cup, they need to be put to use. Sono hopes he will see more white faces in the stadiums when South African domestic league football teams play.

"You will see them (come) now," Sono said. "You can see they are involved. You must open your arms to them and say 'come.' Hopefully after this, the white population will start supporting the teams here. Mainly most of them were supporting the English teams on television which is not good. You also have to support the local teams here."

Sono admits to having his doubts about how well all this was going to come off.

"Beyond my expectations, I have to be honest," he said. "If you are human, you have doubts especially when you read things, you start to doubt. Then you come back to your senses and you doubt again tomorrow and then you come back the following day to normal senses. That's what happened to us."

But don't just take Sono's word for how well everything has gone. The Black Prince believes this tournament has received the ultimate stamp of approval.

"God loves Africa," Sono said. "He took two of the best footballing teams to the final."


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