Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How Important is the 2010 World Cup to Africa?


How important is the 2010 World Cup in South Africa not only for the host nation but for the entire continent of Africa?

In a word: Important.

While much of the importance is derived from financial concerns, there's also the question of image.

Many international observers have a skewed view of Africa that comes from the news media and reports of war and famine.

Many see this World Cup as a way to change Africa's image around the world. The continent's future reputation and chances of holding more big events -- with the huge investment that they bring -- will hang on its success.

Cup organizers are hoping the event will be a way to change a frustrating image of the continent.

"South Africa will deliver a world-class event that will forever change the perceptions of the international community, and also ensure a lasting legacy for the people of Africa," President Jacob Zuma said when he was inaugurated last month.

Zuma is looking to the Cup to help pull Africa's biggest economy out of recession.

A failure at 2010 - be it due to crime or poor organization - will do the opposite. Many will have their chance to say, 'I told you so.'

Will South Africa be ready?

The signs are getting better even though concerns persist, especially over crime, accommodation and transport.

The South African bid was once dogged by stadium delays, labor unrest, bureaucratic and political disputes and an obsession in the local media that the sport's governing body FIFA had a "plan B" to move it elsewhere.

Both FIFA chief Sepp Blatter and Franz Beckenbauer, chairman of the 2006 Germany World Cup organizing committee, publicly criticized the effort.

More recently, officials have been lining up to praise the preparations. "I am sure the World Cup in South Africa is going to be a big, big success," Blatter said last week.

FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke says nine of the 10 stadiums , half of them new, will be ready by December and the last, in Cape Town, will be delivered in February.

FIFA estimates at least 450,000 foreign fans would come for the tournament. Ticket sales, which are released on a staggered basis, are already heavily oversubscribed with at least 28 of the 64 matches sold out. Demand is expected to increase when fans know which teams have qualified, by November.

While optimism is increasing, there is continued nervousness about several potential problems that could spoil the party, with South Africa's crime problem at the forefront.

About 50 people are murdered every day, more than in the United States, which has six times the population. Crime makes South Africa one of the most dangerous countries outside a war zone.

Jordaan has dismissed alarmist warnings, pointing to South Africa's highly successful organization of many international events, including a cricket and rugby World Cup.

Police plan to saturate danger areas with more than 40,000 officers and high-tech security including unmanned drones, but some South Africans worry this will mean leaving everybody else exposed while fans will be vulnerable if they wander out of guarded areas round stadiums, hotels and tourist routes.

There are also fears impoverished local supporters, faced with even the cheapest ever World Cup tickets, at $20, being almost ten times the cost of a domestic premier league match, will either not turn up or sell them to foreign fans.

"The one thing we want it to be is a South African and African World Cup. We don't want it to be European, or South American or Asian," said former England footballer Terry Paine, now a popular commentator on South Africa's Supersport channel.

Whatever the problems, the World Cup has one big plus for South Africa. A construction boom in road, rail and stadium building is a rare bright spot in an economy entering its first recession for 17 years and fanatical foreign fans are thought unlikely to be put off by the global crisis.

FIFA, which makes most of its money from the World Cup, is expected to smash all records for revenue, topped by huge television rights deals, especially in the U.S.

The sports market website Sportcal (www.sportcal.com) estimates FIFA has already made $3.4 billion in commercial revenue, nearly 50 percent higher than the 2006 World Cup.

(Thanks to Barry Moody and Reuters for a bulk of the numbers and reporting in this post.)

MY POV: There would be nothing sadder than to see a major crime wave occur during the World Cup. Africa needs this Cup to be a success. For self-esteem, for future revenue, for pride.

I cross my fingers. But I admit to having a bad feeling about some of this.

50 murders/day? And now we're throwing more than half a million foreign tourists - with money - into the mix? It'll be pick pocket heaven.

And don't even get me started on the hooligan aspect of it all. Could you imagine the catastrophe that would occur if a group of drunken fans decide to pick a fight with a local gang?

Africa needed this Cup. It needed it back in '06 but that's another story.

In all honesty, Africa needs this Cup to be a success for future stability. It needs to put it's best foot forward and show the world it isn't all about civil wars and famine.

And I am positive it will do this.

I just hope some bad seeds don't try to screw it up.


12 comments:

Sam said...

We could be in for a very nervy month next summer..

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