Every four years, the heat of the summer amplifies with a widely-known international event: the World Cup. It is that time of the year where it is not entirely unusual to find strangers arm-in-arm, cheering for their national team. I realized it’s not an exception here in Ghana. Although the Ghanaian national team did not make it to the World Cup, the zeal and the excitement still managed to find its place at the local bars and on the streets. As a huge fan of soccer, I have been and still is following World Cup games at a local bar near the Cultural Center. For me, soccer has been a unifying topic that I was able to make common grounds with other people in Ghana. In fact, one of my first encounters with other Ghanaian men was when I went to one of the sports bars to watch the Champions League game between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Right away, I noticed the heated atmosphere among the crowd, with both teams’ supporters excitedly supporting for their club soccer team. By the end of the game, supporters from both sides were dancing and enjoying drinks with their friends, enjoying the moment regardless of the match’s result. It was then when I was able to talk with other Ghanaian men, often starting the conversation by asking “which team do you support?” While the conversations were not personal and almost always centered around soccer, it definitely helped me to step out of my bubble and step into the local life in Ghana.
This influence of soccer became more pronounced once the 2018 Russia World Cup began. One occasion that I particularly remember was a match between South Korea and Germany. Noticing my obvious zeal for a South Korean soccer team, few of the men in the bar began to ask me if I was a South Korean. Immediately after I confirmed that I was indeed a South Korean, men around me immediately began to initiate conversations with me. Some began to support for South Korean soccer team while the others jokingly taunted me that South Korea had no chance with Germany. Until the end of the game, there were somewhat intense conversations among the crowd (myself included) about the logistics of the World Cup tournament and the possibility of Germany to be out of the tournament in the group stage. By the time the game ended with a shocking 2-0 win by the South Korean soccer team, I was hugging and shaking hands with other Ghanaian men who all congratulated me. Though it was for a brief moment, I believe soccer brought me and the men in that local bar together emotionally despite the cultural and language barriers. While there was no direct connection with South Korea for most of the men in the bar, they were still able to share and relate to my enthusiasm for the victory through soccer.
As my stay in Ghana comes to a close, I look back on my experiences in Ghana with both sadness and gratitude. Sad, because I have made so many attachments to people in Ghana at my service site, Tech University, cultural center, and the bars. At the same time, I felt grateful because I appreciated the warm hospitality that the Ghanaians showed to me throughout my stay in Ghana. While the responsibilities of reaching out to the locals may be levied on people like me who stepped into their culture, I found my experience to be the otherwise. As with soccer and the World Cup, Ghanaians would always find ways to initiate conversations with me by reaching out to me. While sports definitely helped me to step out from the Davidson “bubble” and make connections with other Ghanaians, I believe it was not the sport alone that mediated such attachment. Without the general warmth and welcoming attitude from the Ghanaians, my experiences would not have been the same. Apart from the spectacular goals and the heated atmosphere that is present in every other world cups, I believe that this experience in Ghana was what made this 2018 Russia World Cup particularly refreshing and thrilling than ever before.
These are the links that discuss more on the influence of soccer in Ghana: