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JOHANNESBURG, Jul 12 2010 (IPS) - The past 30 days of World Cup euphoria and patriotism have been a chance to distract ourselves from the unemployment rate, the HIV rate, worsening income disparities, and corruption in the ranks that rule South Africa. But it’s time now to put away our yellow and green Bafana Bafana (South Africa’s soccer team) jerseys and contemplate just what sort of legacy the World Cup has brought us.

There is some good news. After the cry of disbelief from some South African social commentators that its government could lavish billions on a World Cup when over 42 per cent of the populace gets by on less than USD 2 a day, South Africa’s finance minister, Pravin Gordham, delivered the news that his government would come out ahead after World Cup expenses were paid.

That announcement should have included a “just”. Thanks to the estimated 5 billion USD and that foreign visitors have poured into the South African economy over the past few weeks, it appears the 5.27-odd billion USD spent on staging the world cup should “just” be recovered.

Trade unions have had some success in leveraging the event to strengthen their bargaining power, if only for the short term.

So what then has a country where one in seven citizens is infected with HIV gained from hosting this world event? Have thousands of civil society organisations been able to build awareness or been inundated with urgently-needed funds to ensure that every South African has access to the basics of education, electricity, sanitation, and medication?

Has the world understood that South Africa is not doing so well on the Millennium Development Goals, such as reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating HIV and AIDS, malaria, and other diseases? Did it become clear that South Africa, though on track to halve the proportion of people who live on less than one dollar a day, still has half of its population living in poverty?

The economic community seems doubtful: in a survey conducted before the competition began, Citigroup found that the biggest beneficiary of any football World Cup was invariably FIFA, while the host nation almost always carried a disproportionate share of the cost burden. Though it estimated that the tourism inflow could boost real gross domestic product by 0.5 percent this year, the only real benefit Citigroup envisioned for the nation was a boost to its global image. The International Monetary Fund concurred.

So while Europeans and Americans might now be rushing to book an African safari, what about the nation’s civil society? Have the thousands of civil society organisations been able to build awareness or been inundated with urgently-needed funds to ensure every South African has access to the basics of education, electricity, sanitation and medication?

One director of an HIV awareness NGO we spoke to, who wishes to remain anonymous, summed up the sentiment: “The sponsors are playing the media and painting a picture that they are giving back, but the reality is we haven’t seen a thing.”

There is even the fear swelling in the development sector that in the short term its local funding will shrink, as South Africans look to tighten their financial belts after the excesses of the World Cup period. Although I don’t believe it’s accurate to say civil society has been totally forgotten in the World Cup fever; the limited activity has been centred around photo-opportunity friendly, urban, established, globally-known projects like the 1GOAL programme, FIFA’s 20 centres for 2010 (eight finished across Africa), Sony, and Nike.

Since it was announced that South Africa would host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, there’s been a lot of talk about the positive carry-over effect, how the cup, much like the Rugby World Cup in 1995, would unify its people and bring an injection of foreign money into the community and economy.

“Change will come.” the positive voices urge. But were we right to push the positive “glitz” of our country and not the plight of the millions of children who wake each day hungry? Too many of us, perhaps, were caught in the choice between either defending against the bias in the Western media that emphasises the negatives or simply telling the truth regardless of consequences at the risk of exacerbating those biases.

For some, ignoring those hungry children has meant that the world now has a mistaken image of South Africa as well-furnished and opulent and not in need of money to support our civil society programmes. The more important consequence, perhaps, is the reinforcement of the underlying model of trickle-down economics that has seen South Africa desert the founding principles of its Freedom Charter for neo-liberal paradigms.

It is still too soon to tell, but I fear that just as the traders were squeezed out by FIFA’s aggressive protection of its official sponsors, civil society has missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture World Cup attention and push its civil cause. If I were to force myself towards optimism, I could express the hope that, now the circus is over, we can return our focus to bread. (COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Ingrid Srinath is secretary-general of CIVICUS, World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

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