Soccer fever rises. A billboard on the East Bay side of the California's Oakland/San Francisco Bay Bridge displays an animated advertisement with the FIFA logo announcing "RSA vs. Mexico, Friday 6:30am." The growing excitement makes even someone who elects to live sans a television cast around for a place to watch the sport referred to as the "beautiful game."
At ground zero, South Africa's liberal Mail and Guardian quotes President Jacob Zuma: the World Cup is "the single greatest opportunity we have ever had to showcase our diversity and potential to the world. We must rise and tell the story of a continent which is alive with possibilities."
Indeed, Zuma's post-World Cup future promises magical transformations: racial reconciliation; the end of post-apartheid troubles, disasters and tragedies; a plethora of international investors; and horizons chock-a-block with spend-happy tourists who, drawn to South Africa's charm and beauty, will return again and again. This, despite glowing estimates (450,000 international and 100,000 African soccer fans) falling woefully short and despite the growing disincentives of future carbon taxes on air and other travel, the country's failing infrastructure and social services, and its hard-to-beat reputation as the "rape capital" of the world.
The word on Main Street has it a veritable honor to any country granted the opportunity to host FIFA's World Cup. But, back in the 'hood where the host country's majority live, the downside is very real to the people whose government contracted with FIFA to spend lavishly for FIFA. The effects persist long after the last soccer fan departs a brand new stadium built for a handful of games.
Show no poverty!
In Cape Town, FIFA officials took one look at the location of the existing functional Athlone stadium and refused to play soccer in it, explaining that "A billion television viewers don't want to see shacks and poverty on this scale."
Here's an idea. Instead of infantalizing a billion viewers at the cost of the new stadium in Green Point spend the money on the improving civil infrastructure. Yes, Table Mountain is beautiful behind the new stadium that is also the most expensive ever built anywhere so far! But, imagine what that budget of R4.5 billion/ US $580 million with cost overruns and escalations in 2006 rising from R1.8 billion/US $225 million to R3.1 billion could do if it went toward creating durable jobs that built sustainable neighborhoods with schools, clinics, and parks for the next generation to learn soccer?
Then a billion finicky television viewers could see their largess manifested in Athlone and feel the adult joy of constructive participation in real South Africa.
More importantly, a few thousand of the currently 4.18 million unemployed South Africans would have jobs, pay taxes, consume local goods, and offer security to their families.