Author, "The Value of Nothing"
Posted: June 10, 2010 03:09 PM
When the World Cup begins in South Africa on Friday, anyone who has ever kicked a ball will be able to follow along -- soccer is elegant, straightforward and simple to understand. The Beautiful Game does, however, have a regulation that stops play, reverses the game and routinely baffles neophytes: the off-side rule. To understand it, spectators need only look outside the billion dollar stadiums to the streets of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, for they are filled with off-side people, those whom the Rainbow Nation has yet to embrace.
The complexities of the off-side rule are almost indescribable on paper -- it's best explained with pepper-pots or, these days, YouTube. But the regulation is essentially this: It's okay to loiter wherever you want on the football field, but if you find yourself behind your opponent's lines in the wrong place when a ball is kicked your way, you can watch it fall, but cannot play it. Behind the lines of rivals, seeing events unfold, but unable to join in the game: That happens all the time in South Africa.