High expectations mask tough realities
On May 15, 2004, Nelson Mandela wept on stage when South Africa was chosen to host the 2010 World Cup, and then-president Thabo Mbeki declared that “South Africa’s time has come.” Experts worldwide predicted that the World Cup would be a transformative and unifying moment in the country’s history and a harbinger of political, economic, and social change.
Nearly six years later, however, these expectations continue to cloak a sobering reality. The development thought to be associated with sporting mega-events often fails to materialize, and South Africa seems to be no exception to this rule. Any changes derived from hosting the soccer tournament will be more symbolic than real, more mental and sentimental than economic or quantifiable.
With more member nations than the United Nations, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has the potential to exert great influence in the international arena. After announcing South Africa as the host of the 2010 World Cup, FIFA launched the “Win in Africa with Africa” campaign “to provide the continent with tools to progress and the skills with which it can continue its own development.”
FIFA’s optimism was immediately embraced by the African National Congress, the United Nations, and the European Union, each of which hailed the tournament as a promising developmental and political project for South Africa and for the entire African continent.
The idea that the World Cup will remake South Africa’s image both at home and abroad may be one of the most prevalent expectations. Scarlett Cornelissen, professor of political science at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, told the HPR that successfully hosting the tournament “could signal to the outside world that South Africa is at the forefront of development and modernity.” And Peter Alegi, the author of Laduma!: Soccer, Politics, and Society in South Africa, told the HPR that the tournament may bring South Africans together in the manner of 1995 Rugby World Cup, recently dramatized in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus.
“There is the likelihood that the World Cup tournament will generate enough national pride that it will temporarily unite South Africans in a society that is still very much divided due to the legacy of apartheid and racism,” Alegi explained. By changing the way that the world sees African cities and cultures, the World Cup presents a prime opportunity to reshape perceptions of South Africa and the continent.
Expectations of an economic boon have also been widespread. Any economic improvements will hang on the success, both during and after the tournament, of ten newly built and renovated mega-stadiums around the country. Orli Bass, coeditor of Development and Dreams: The Urban Legacy of the 2010 Football World Cup, told the HPR that many South Africans celebrated stadium construction projects as sources of immediate job creation, local investment, and increased tourism, with “many of the poorer people who have few job prospects looking towards the World Cup as a cure-all.” For many South Africans, the tournament seems to offer a stage, not only for the display of national pride and community, but also for showcasing the country’s economic progress.
The 2010 World Cup has thus been hailed as the seed for South African revival. But the soil remains relatively infertile. South Africa continues to face a host of challenges: from poverty, homelessness, and unemployment to violent crime, HIV/AIDS, and a fragile race and class structure lingering from apartheid. The urgency of these issues calls into question the feasibility and appropriateness of South Africa’s campaign to host the World Cup.
As Chris Bolsmann, co-author of South Africa and the Global Game: Football, Apartheid, and Beyond, told the HPR, “South Africans are very, very aware of what the cost of the World Cup is actually going to be to us and has been to us when we have serious issues of unemployment, inequality, HIV/AIDS, and very little access to basic services.” Genuine and sustained development will mean addressing these issues, and the World Cup will likely fail to achieve significant change in this regard.
According to the South African National Treasury, various levels of government have spent over $3.8 billion on infrastructure projects for the tournament. These expenditures have diverted resources from government programs tailored to tackle poverty, unemployment, crime, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As Alegi noted, “spending for the World Cup is a drop in the ocean” for the national government, but “spending on the local level has a huge impact on things like providing health care access to poor people and building adequate homes for the homeless.”
This diversion of funds, according to Bass, has sparked local resentment and controversy. “In many of the big cities, there have been increased riots and demonstrations with people demanding delivery of services,” she observed. There are also doubts about the wisdom of investments in hostels, roads, and stadiums from which few South Africans are likely to benefit in the long run.
Even the anticipated economic boost from increased tourism seems unrealistic in light of historical precedent. A study conducted by economics professors Robert Baade and Victor Matheson after the 1994 World Cup found that nine of the 13 U.S. host cities actually experienced declines in income growth after the tournament. Likewise, studies have shown that, apart from breweries, money-exchange offices, and producers of tabletop football, few domestic businesses experienced long-term benefits from the 2006 World Cup in Germany. It seems likely, then, that the 2010 World Cup’s supposed contributions to economic development have been overstated.
The run-up to the 2010 World Cup has revealed a South African government more concerned with political advertising and imagery than the hard tasks of governing. Following FIFA’s lead, the South African government has used the World Cup to construct an image of a modern and progressive South Africa, implying that the returns on this marketing will act as a panacea for the country’s social and economic problems.
Unfortunately, the failure to integrate this campaign with other social-service and development programs may undermine everyone’s high expectations. The 2010 World Cup has been marked by an infectious optimism that encourages big-picture thinking above local issues and needs. Nonetheless, the South African marketing campaign is more than baseless hype, at least on a symbolic level. Even the emptiest rhetoric can bring common purpose to a still fragmented country and continent.
South Africa’s most pressing problems, however, remain entrenched in its social and economic fabric. Problems such as high unemployment and HIV/AIDS demand solutions that go beyond stoking national pride. The World Cup promises 31 days of exciting soccer and an invigorated and confident host country. But unless South Africa’s infrastructural and economic preparations are better integrated into a broader social program, the tournament will fall short of lofty expectations.
Taylor Helgren ‘11 is a Contributing Writer. Kathy Lee ‘13 is Staff Director.
Photo Credit: Flickr Stream of mitchelljohn