Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Middle East & North Africa

WORLD CUP: But South Africa Will Win

Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

JERUSALEM, Mar 17 2010 (IPS) - Less than a hundred days to go, and the world looks on, often more with scepticism than anticipation.

For five weeks from Jun. 11 to Jul. 11 threats of war will be relegated beyond the global touchlines – the world will be tuned into the battles within ten stadiums at the southern tip of Africa.

The first ever football World Cup will be taking place on African soil. Billboards around South Africa trumpet the World Cup as “Ayoba!” – ‘Cool’. But will South Africa be ready? That’s the question on the lips of the world – of the First World, that is.

No one seriously believed that a sporting event, even one as mighty as the World Cup, could instantly transform a society riven with inequalities, crime and HIV.

But the granting by football’s world governing authority, FIFA, of the Cup to post-apartheid South Africa provided the country with the opportunity to project a powerfully positive image.

So much captial – political, emotional and financial – has been invested in the tournament that if it fails it would be a crushing blow to South Africa’s national psyche.


Many seem to be hoping for precisely that. Embittered white South Africans who hanker after their inglorious past; Europeans irritated at seeing their favourite sport in the hands of the Third World; First World neo-colonialists who thrive on the misery of ‘the other’ and whose Schadenfreude leads them to argue that surely Africans can’t pull off the elaborate job of organising one of the world’s great sporting jamborees.

Those bemoaning the failings of the Rainbow Nation ignore the changes that have occured since the racist society was consigned to the scrapheap of history have been joined by Doom-Mongers United from the world of sport. Together, they are predicting that SA2010 will be “a colossal failure”. Or, as Dan Nichol writes in the Iafrica.com website, “All the naysayers who insist that an African world cup simply can’t work.”

Ranged against the Afro-pessimists are South Africa’s football officials and the FIFA bosses who insist that the doubters will be vanquished.

“Everything is on track and ready,” Sepp Blatter, the FIFA chief, said recently. “The African continent is going to host the World Cup. Why don’t certain groups want to believe it? It’s so easy to just trust and have confidence.”

During an inspection tour of the nine host cities earlier this month, Jérôme Valcke, the FIFA secretary-general, accused the European media of “alarmist reporting”, saying, “Don’t kill the World Cup before it starts. It’s unfair and it’s really sad.”

The doomsayers had repeatedly insisted that the ten stadiums would never be ready. While the grass is still a problem in one stadium, FIFA experts say several venues rival anything in the U.S., Asia or Europe. They also praise the country’s string of new airports that “ought to bury notions of post-colonial inferiority.”

“Where can you see a stadium like this anywhere in the world?” said Vlacke of ‘Football City’ where the final will played. There, 20 years ago Nelson Mandela held a mass rally after his release from prison.

The organisers are hoping that the frail 91-year-old world icon of freedom and tolerance will be fit enough to attend the opening ceremony and put a personal seal on South Africa’s transformation from international pariah nation to host of a united world.

The doomsters also question how foreign fans will reach the stadiums. Indeed, in the decade and a half since democracy was ushered in, the South African government has struggled to catch up. Public transport remains erratic, often chaotic, with most blacks having to rely on dangerous private minibus services.

That ignores the fact that under apartheid little was done to meet the transportation needs of the black majority. Alternative services especially for the World Cup have been resisted by the private operators and met objections from residents of wealthy, mostly white neighborhoods through which proposed bus routes were drawn.

Then there’s accomodation bugbears. Fears about a shortage of hotel rooms have been subsiding as the estimated number of foreign visitors is revised down from 450,000 to 350,000 due to the global economic crisis and price gouging by airlines.

Still, some overseas fans may have to make do with half-finished hotels or to being put up in college dorms or even tented campgrounds.

Those who are not fans of an Africa world cup switch from whether South Africa is equipped to host the tournament to what kind of host it will be. Especially, whether the foreign fans who do make the trip will be safe.

South Africa has spent more than 300 million dollars on security, recruiting 55,000 additional police and buying hi-tech surveillance and crowd-control equipment especially for the competition.

More pertinently, Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu argues that ordinary South Africans so want the Cup to succeed that they’ll make sure any would- be miscreants will not do anything untoward to diminish the happy experience of the world’s football community.

World Cup 2010 will definitely not be the same as the model tournament staged in Germany four years ago. But, it can be just as engaging.

There are complaints about the high-priced tickets and that many will not be bought up by droves of fans from outside Africa.

Should that happen, a European model could be emulated. With local fans mostly unable to afford the tickets, FIFA and the SA organisers could follow the French rugby authorities in their World Cup three years ago – fill the stadia with young and old fans, school and club players.

These are people who’ve never had, and for the most part probably will never again have, the opportunity to be part of the pinnacle of the ‘People’s Game’, which shouldn’t be the preserve of those with influence or money.

That would transform the dominant mood of the tournament into being genuinely African, an opportunity for Africa to prove just how much it is part of the world – in positive terms.

The Oscar-nominated movie Invictus explored how Nelson Mandela used another global sporting event, the 1995 rugby World Cup, to help heal the divisions and the wounds of the past within South Africa between Afrikaners and Africans.

Similarly, many South Africans are hoping their football World Cup will deconstruct the negative image of Africa. That it will make headway in helping heal the First World-Third World divisions and the wounds of the past which Europe (after all, the birthplace of the world game) wrought on Africa.

“With 100 days to go, we can already hear the roar of our vuvuzelas (the peculiar, and supremely noisy bugles so beloved of SA football fans) that will soon herald the start of a full month of football majesty,” writes Nichol. “Then, the world will know 2010 couldn’t have found a better home.”

 
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