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What Did South Africa Get?

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On July 11, 2010 the vuvuzelas will fall silent. The thousands of rowdy fans will be packing up their bags to go back to their homes far, far away. Of course, there will be a winner, maybe Brazil, maybe Argentina or Germany. And after a month of frenzied activity and international escapism, South Africans will come back down from their soccer high and confront the morbid realities of their challenging lives.

The millions of people who watched the keenly contested games rooting for this team or that one and acting all pundit-like giving all kinds of philosophical analyses about their favorite team and its million dollar players, will move on to other mundane events. South Africa's thousands of poor barefooted children playing football (soccer) in the squalid conditions of places like Soweto will get back to their usual dreary life in these urban ghettos.

For all of 30 days they escaped the chronic daily depression of South Africa's crippling ghettoized poverty dreaming of becoming the star soccer players that they did not get to see. Their parents could not afford the price of a ticket. But urban decay and poverty have always coexisted side by side with soccer across the world. It is the one sport that puts excitement in otherwise uneventful lives and for poor young men it is a ticket out of their mean existences and a chance to get rich.

World Cup 2010 in South Africa was no different. Rich soccer players, their managers and retunes zipped along newly refurbished highways passing squatter settlements, depressed townships, and other reminders of Apartheid's ugly past enroute to posh hotels and stadiums. Insulated from this reality of South African life the organizers of the world cup will rake in billions of dollars from their monopoly of ticket sales, television rights, sponsorships and merchandizing.

From preliminary reports FIFA, soccer's international governing body, is projected to make a clear net profit in the $3 billion range. All of this money will leave South Africa for Europe including about $4 billion that the country shelled out to host the tournament. For FIFA and the hundreds of consultants, project managers and the like this is a huge financial bonanza. For the vast majority of South Africans the 2010 World Cup will be a distant memory, as they get back to the daily humdrum of just staying alive.

The South African organizers and FIFA's executive officers have repeatedly claimed that this international showcasing of soccer will help transform the lives of millions of South Africa's poor and help the continent as a whole. The event was supposed to create jobs, leave a physical infrastructure in place that will benefit the country including spanking new stadiums built to international standards and transportation improvements. But this huge investment in financial resources only created about 150,000 jobs mainly in the construction industry that saw industrial action by poor workers demanding decent wages.

The jury is still out on long term job gains since those construction job s have long ended. And as far as wooing millions of visitors to witness the games and buttressing South African tourism in the process figures and projections put the number of visitors at a paltry 200,000 way short of the estimated 800,000 both FIFA and the South African government claimed would come.

So the South African government put out the money to bring its sports infrastructure up to FIFA's standards and invested heavily in refurbishment and repairs of selected areas pinning its hopes on visitor arrivals and hotel occupancy. It is left holding the empty bag. FIFA received $3.5 billion for television rights thanks to United States big business and sports stations. This was a lucrative investment because an estimated 26 billion people will watch the 2010 World Cup. ESPN, ABC and other US sports channel giants shelled out upwards of $125 million to FIFA for broadcast rights.

These companies have also locked in and signed broadcast rights with FIFA for the 2014 world cup wherever it will be played. Univision the Spanish television conglomerate paid FIFA $325 million to broadcast the games in Spanish to US markets. Other FIFA-related companies also got in on the consulting and hotel travel acts buying up huge blocks of hotel rooms that they sold on the Internet for a tidy sum.

Then there is the issue of what happens to the five stadiums. For one thing it's going to be very hard for South Africa to find activities to make them a winning proposition financially. South Africa does not have a developed soccer industry that will be able to support the stadiums. Besides, the vast majority of South Africans find it difficult to put food on the table and clothe their children and cannot afford to regularly pay to see soccer matches during the domestic season. What this means is that the South African taxpayer will be left with this huge bill even as FIFA makes plans to hold the games in another country.

Finally, there are a number of economic activities that will not benefit South Africans. For example, transportation is being handled by special buses and not local taxi drivers. Local markets were demolished and new malls created displacing ordinary poor South Africans who hitherto made a living by selling their goods at these markets. Street vendors, a feature of all African countries, have been banned from hawking their wares in the vicinity of the brand new stadiums that their tax money is paying for. The government wants to present a sanitized, clean image of South Africa to the world.

FIFA is the only organization authorized and allowed to sell merchandize in the World Cup and all of its commercial activities are exempt from South African laws and not subject to local taxes. FIFA is also indemnified from any accident suffered by fans and the South African government is responsible for security. It has assigned 40,000 police to make sure that FIFA and its soccer assets are safe. And perhaps most telling is the fact that shantytowns located near these showcase stadiums have been cleared and its inhabitants "relocated" to areas far from these posh venues.

South Africa has put on a hugely expensive show that will benefit only its Black and white elite. For the millions of poor and disenfranchised who cannot afford the price of a ticket viewing it on communal television is the next best thing. The sad thing is that while the South African government fetes, wines and dines the sporting elite and pays homage to visiting dignitaries with champagne and caviar thousands of its suffering poor are hungry and lack the very basic necessities for life.

I like the World Cup and I like soccer but if this international sports organization that generates billions of dollars simply behaves like a parasite and sucks the blood of its host then that has to be addressed. South Africans the vast majority of the working poor will be worse off for the 30-day soccer championship showcase. When the Brazilians, Argentineans and Germans board their planes and jet back to their privileged lives these poor people will be saddled with five white elephants that they will have to pay for. By the end of July FIFA and its high-paid officials and players would have forgotten a place called Soweto.

 

MICHAEL D. ROBERTS is a top Political Strategist and Business, Management and Communications Specialist in New York City's Black community. He is an experienced writer whose specialty is socio-political and economic analysis and local (more...)
 

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