World Cup 2010: Hallow showpiece or hollow show-off?

There are three ways of looking at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with less than a month to go until the opening ceremony – as a good business opportunity and as something that is meant to do South Africa and Africa proud; as yet another case of African leaders more interested in financially rewarding a small elite, and in the reputation of themselves and “their country”, than the well-being of their people; or as a bit of both.

In keeping with the first view, former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, has said (in 2003) that “the successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup in Africa will provide a powerful, irresistible momentum to [the] African renaissance … [and] will send ripples of confidence from the Cape to Cairo – an event that will create social and economic opportunities throughout Africa” . Current president Jacob Zuma and many South African ministers have echoed this view, claiming that the 2010 World Cup would spread both wealth and confidence throughout the continent, Zuma claiming that the tournament would assist in “alleviating poverty, creating jobs and generally in social upliftment. Not to mention the … eradication of stereotypes and Afro-pessimism”. Most South Africans, indeed, seem to be very optimistic about the World Cup and the long term benefits that it is supposed to give their country .

While I agree in the need for the eradication of Afro-pessimism, both in Africa and outside, the belief that the World Cup is an “African” World Cup is problematic on at least three accounts: that there seems to be a growing xenophobia in South Africa, not least towards other Africans; that the ANC government and the nation as a whole seems to employ an ever-growing, inward-looking nationalism and exceptionalism (as the “proudly South African” campaign shows); and that South Africa’s presence in Africa is increasingly that of an sub-imperial power.

As for the World Cup being a business opportunity, it seems obvious that the rich and powerful have hijacked it. Most ordinary South Africans will not be able to afford even the cheapest tickets costing 150 Rand, given that unemployment is at least 30% and that many who have a job earn less than 1000 Rand a month. FIFA will reap most of the rewards, such as television rights and advertising , while South Africa will pick up the bill of around two billion Euro. And the money that has been spent on infrastructure, such as new or upgraded stadiums and transport, will not benefit the majority of poor South Africans – as much of the money has been wasted on prestige projects that could have been done much cheaper; most of the transport will not benefit those who need it the most; and most of the job creation has been temporary with huge lay-offs already taking place.  But even if the World Cup was to provide South Africa with a surplus, if not instantly then due to an increasing tourism that seems improbable due to the present economic downturn, however, then this money will probably never reach the poor and needy South Africans who need it the most. South Africa is the most unequal society in the world, even more so than during apartheid, and the policies of the ANC during its 16 years in government have generally been more about generating wealth for a small black elite, through such schemes as Black Economic Empowerment, than about  redistribution and pro-poor politics.

In fact, the World Cup might even make poor South Africans even poorer by taking away their livelihoods or homes. Many poor South Africans sustain themselves through street vending outside soccer stadiums, but copyrights for World Cup products are in the hands of multinationals, and FIFA has declared the spaces outside World Cup stadiums for no-go areas for vendors selling food or World Cup paraphernalia – the catering of spectators is instead to be done by World Cup sponsors McDonalds. The vendors therefore stand to lose whatever little income they have for the duration of the tournament. Many poor South Africans have also been forcefully removed from their homes in townships around South Africa and several schools have been demolished, either to make way for the building of new stadiums or to make areas less of an “eyesore” for the incoming World Cup tourists. These government-sanctioned actions has been likened to similar removals during the apartheid regime.

In summation, I would like to believe that at least the “a bit of both” way of looking at the World Cup 2010 that I mentioned in the beginning of this article was credible. This is not least because I am looking very much forward to the tournament myself – especially because it is to be held in South Africa, and because I believe that South Africa, and Africa as a whole, needs the uplift that a combination of pride and socio-economic opportunities could give. I therefore hope that South Africa does not end up as have many other organisers of World Cups and Olympic Games – with expensive stadiums and other facilities built as showcases of national pride and glory but left as useless “monuments to national hubris”, and with nothing positive to show for it.


It’s like a concentration camp, Mail & Guardian, 7 June 2010

The ugly truth about the beautiful game, The Independent, 3 June 2010

Tvangsflytninger i Sydafrika financieres inddirekte af danske pengeinstitutter, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, 19 May 2010

FIFA World Cup an expensive party the poor have to pay for, The Sowetan, 18 May 2010

S. Africa rounds up poor, prostitutes ahead of World Cup,, 18 May 2010

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2 Responses to World Cup 2010: Hallow showpiece or hollow show-off?

  1. Pingback: World Cup 2010: The people’s game? « Stiffkitten's Blog

  2. Pingback: World Cup 2010: The positive side of the World Cup « Stiffkitten's Blog

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