The Two-sided Coin of the World Cup

Football’s World Cup – a review

It is probably a bit non-PC [PC = politically correct, Ed] to say anything negative about the World Cup, but I sense that the importance of being PC is beginning to wane; not that it ever bothered me anyway.

Let’s look at the positives, since almost everything has some positives somewhere; Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and the North Korean regime being obvious exceptions.

  • They built world-class stadia on time.
  • The foreign visitors who were there generally got to venues on time and the matches all started on time.
  • Inside the stadia (despite the obvious occasional sillinesses for which we can blame FIFA), everything went tickety-boo. According to some pundits, the atmosphere was “the best ever”, despite (or because of?) the hideous vuvuzela.
  • There was no major crime wave, no terrorism, no significant disasters of any kind.
  • The South Africans were reportedly very hospitable.
  • Opposing fans celebrated together; the England fans totally restored their reputations; reports of drunken English mobs were distinguishable by their absence. (they probably couldn’t afford to get there.)
  • South Africa took pride in its ability to put on the World Cup, which many had suspected it incapable of.
  • For a month the nation forgot all its problems; most people had a big party, even if the South African team (and Africa in general) was made to realize the enduring gulf between its standard of football and that of the other continents.

So, all’s well that ends well, then? Unfortunately not ….

  • The country paid around 10 billion rand to put the event on, three times more than original estimates. Where did all the money go?
  • The country is left with giant stadia that may never again be filled, the so-called “white-elephants” typical of almost all these major events. Apparently even the wondrous “Birds-nest” stadium in Beijing used for the opening ceremony of the Olympics has only been used once since 2008.
  • Only half the number of expected foreign tourists came, as the organisers over-priced everything. Organisers claim the extra income generated will pay for the costs, but nobody believes them …..
  • Preparations for the World Cup provided jobs, but those workers are now back on the street. The ordinary people of South Africa benefited little from the event, except in terms of “national pride”.

And there of course is an interesting animal; “national pride”. In a grown-up world, you’d have hoped that national pride would be best achieved through one of the following:

  • the building of suitable housing for the population
  • the setting-up of an affordable and accessible national health system (fat chance, even the USA hasn’t got that!!)
  • the diminution and ending of corruption
  • the creation of a fair society
  • the development of the economy to provide jobs and create wealth to allow ordinary people to live decently and comfortably

Any of these and other things could be seen as deserving of “national pride”, but the ability to put on at vast expense a four-week jamboree that mostly benefited the political elite, other nations, FIFA and the international television networks is a dubious contender for “pride”.

But of course it depends which side of the coin you are looking at. For some, all the expense justifies the “putting of South Africa on the map.” The politicians as usual will have been the most happy; four weeks in the spotlight strutting about on the world stage, loads of media coverage, hundreds of journalists hanging on their every word …

As for the real ethos behind the World Cup, the bits that don’t hit the glitzy headlines, two in particular struck me as symbolic of Man’s capacity for self-delusion; Africa’s attitude to its poor and the obscene power of international non-governmental monopolies such as FIFA.

These have been variously described in excellent articles written by proper journalists. The first example is from Globalpost. I find it pretty depressing.

Green Point Stadium, Cape Town: In Cape Town, Green Point Stadium is covered in a sheath of woven fiberglass so that it glows at night like a floating bowl. But its location on six city blocks in a prime real estate area has also created controversy. In 2006, the city’s government published a study that found the stadium’s location offered the least amount of economic gain to Cape Town’s resident. In fact, repairs to several older stadiums in the surrounding area could have led to savings that could have paid for 250,000 new homes for the city’s poor, according to researchers.

But FIFA wanted a stadium that would sit between South Africa’s iconic Table Mountain and Robben Island, according to reports, causing the football federation’s president, Sepp Blatter, to come under fire.

“I really think that we’re going into Green Point because Sepp Blatter says: ‘I like Green Point,’ not because it is the best thing for South Africans,” Cape Town’s then-mayor, Helen Zille, said in 2006.

Sepp Blatter will take his $2 BILLION profit away with him to some lush office somewhere, while the ordinary residents of Cape Town pick up their lives as before. How long “national pride” will sustain them is a moot point.

Roadside waterseller in Gabon, West Africa

The Marketing Bonanza: If you’ve been to Africa and driven around a bit, you’ll know that there are street traders everywhere. These are desperately poor people who will try to flog you anything and everything. They wander up and down lines of cars carrying their pathetic wares. In the ferocious midday heat women often carry large heavy  buckets full of water bottles on their heads. Many do this all day every day to earn a pittance.

But of course, like beggars in the big city, they don’t really create the right “image” and “ambiance” for a major international event with its glitz and invasion of well-off foreigners. So, as reported in “The Guardian they were simply banned whenever the authorities considered it appropriate. So much for the World Cup “improving the lives of ordinary Africans”.

But not just anyone will be allowed to participate in what President Jacob Zuma calls “the greatest marketing opportunity of our time“. Informal traders – a significant part of the working poor – are subject to a verbatim “exclusion zone” from the bonanza in the fan parks, fan walks and stadiums. For them, the World Cup may as well be happening on another continent.

I have personal experience of something similar in Gabon. When the wife of President Bongo died, the whole country was ordered to do a week’s mourning. Street trading was banned. This of course did not affect the elite, but for many of the rest it meant the difference between eating and going hungry. When a few daring and desperate people dared to try to sell their pitiful produce in some locations the police confiscated it and trashed their stands.

And FIFA? It is reported to have made $2 BILLION in tax-free profits. Who controls this money? Why is it tax-free?  How will it be spent? To whom is FIFA really accountable? Ah, to national Football Associations? You mean like the British one, which pays £6 million per annum to a failed manager, which is three times more than the German Coach gets?

These vast sums swilling about leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Of course, any organisation’s primary concern is usually to its own self-aggrandizement, so nothing new there. Even the European Union refuses to get its accounts signed off properly, so what faith the common man can have in the honesty of these vast international organisations is questionable.

Well, the World Cup has come and gone and it provided much entertainment for those watching the games. The long-term legacy for the ordinary people of South Africa (43% of whom live on less than $2 per day) is another matter, so forgive me if my rejoicing is muted.

PS The Vuvuzuela …. nothing to me more clearly illustrates Man’s stupidity. The sound output of this instrument is 113db, which can apparently become harmful to the hearing after only 90 seconds. Those in the stadia (including the players, by the way – did anyone ask THEM what they felt?) were subject to nearly TWO HOURS of continuous multiple vuvuzuelae. Many of those people will have had their hearing IRREPARABLY DAMAGED. This will only become clearer to them in LATER YEARS.

For me it is a symbol of our stupidity. All the above health risks are clear and known. Did FIFA ban the damned thing? OF COURSE NOT!! That would have diminished the “local colour” so vital for the international media, which gives Blatter his $2 billion profit. Who gives a damn about ordinary people’s hearing? I doubt whether Sepp Blatter exposed himself overmuch to the bloody things, though he seems pretty deaf already. Once again, for a transient thrill or benefit we do ourselves lasting damage, no different from the way we often treat the planet of course.

By Chris Snuggs

5 thoughts on “The Two-sided Coin of the World Cup

  1. Hi Di … it may surprise you to learn that I have in fact spent the entire last year without an armchair, or indeed a sofa.

    No, I did not attend the games, which is probably why I didn’t get caught up in the general hysteria. As I said in my article, it’s two-sided. Those who could afford tickets probably had a good time letting off steam with their blowythinggies. But my point was to highlight those who couldn’t go to a match or indeed were rounded up and shunted away by the authorities in case they spoiled the image. Heaven forbid that street hawkers (the real image of plebian Africa) should get anywhere near those rich foreign tourists.

    I tend to side with the have-nots, not the presidents and other VIPs for whom such bloated, extravagant events are manna from Heaven. The person who probably benefited most from these games was Sepp Blather, who walked away with £2 BILLION quid of tax-free money.

    I was amused to hear Zuma say: “The games cost a lot but at least we have new roads and can travel about faster.” Do me a favour! A) Why couldn’t you build the bloody roads anyway? and B) the majority of your people can’t travel by road anyway but are stuck in shantytowns, a good many with AIDS thanks to the lunatic policies of your predecessor.

    As I said, it’s a two-sided coin, and while everyone is banging on about how wonderful it all was the other side of the coin needs mentioning, too. Did you catch the quote of the Mayor of Cape Town about the siting of the stadium there being mostly to the benefit of Blather, whereas another location would have brought more long-term benefits to the ordinary people? I have lived in Africa. It is dangerous to generalise, but there is rampant corruption of the elite and the idea that these games will bring lasting benefit to the lowest in society is dubious, to say the least. The stadia cost billions, whereas millions live in shit housing with no jobs. Let’s try to get some perspective.


  2. I agree with Di’s implicit critique.

    Better football than war.

    During the final, most people, who, worldwide, are not Spanish, probably came to support the Hispanics, because of the brutish Dutch ways. So they learned to live outside of their own nationality, and root for the other guys, an important form of empathy.

    OK, granted, there are problems. But I was surprised that South Africa could organize the games so well, and it no doubt help the image of that country, worldwide.

    South Africa is still a delicate balance, but an important one, because, differently from mono-ethnic countries, it is founded on multi-ethnicity and appreciation of differences.


  3. Patrice – who mentioned war? There was no “World Cup or war” choice? There MAY now be “war”, when native South Africans turn on other Africans who they feel are taking their jobs.

    Read my post; I never denied the WC was good for lots of Africans especially the elite – you know, those who support the loathsome Mugabe, but for lots of others it WASN’T:

    Informal traders – a significant part of the working poor – are subject to a verbatim “exclusion zone” from the bonanza in the fan parks, fan walks and stadiums. For them, the World Cup may as well be happening on another continent.


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