The 2010 World Cup And Mass Escapism;No Matter The Hype And Vuvuzelas South Africa's Poor No Better Off
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
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
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
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.
Submitters Bio: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 community relations. He has covered the United Nations, the Caribbean and Africa in a career that spans over 32 years in journalism. As Editor of New York CARIB NEWS,
a position that he's held since 1990, he is in a unique position to have his hands on the pulse of the over 800,000 Caribbean-American community in Brooklyn, and the over 2.5 million members resident in the wider New York State community.