Legacy of 2010

2009-06-12 00:00

I REMEMBER exactly what I was doing when Sepp Blatter announced that South Africa would be the 2010 host for the Fifa Soccer World Cup.

I was trying to get one of my children trussed up in a car seat in a shopping centre in Rivonia. Without warning, the centre erupted into screams and shouts and dancing and car hooting. Taxis started behaving like jumping castles. Vuvuzelas appeared out of nowhere and deafened innocent passers-by. Hitherto silent shops suddenly produced massive loudspeakers and made shopping an even more unpleasant experience than it already was. People were very happy, that is the truth.

Well, to be honest, mostly black people were happy. White people were either irritated or long-suffering or habitually sceptical. And during the past year-and-a-half that I have been working in the 2010 environment, I would have to say that the number of white people who, when they discovered what I do for a living, looked pseudo-concerned and said the words “Do you think we will be ready?” compared with the number of blacks asking the same question, outnumbered them 65 to one.

It is, of course, common cause that in South Africa, peculiarly, football is a game mostly supported by black people. This is not something germane to the game itself. It isn’t as though you need a dark skin to run up and down a soccer pitch and kick a ball into the goals. The fact that mostly blacks support and play football in this country is no accident at all. There is a social and political history behind this fact, which is to be found in the way in which one game — rugby — was resourced, encouraged and managed by a government that wanted to maintain it for the benefit of the white race group, to the detriment of another sport — football.

At schools, around the braai, on television, in church and on the farm — everywhere — white boys were encouraged to play rugby. And when they did so, they were provided with extraordinary incentives, scholarships, prizes and laudation. It was promoted everywhere. It became part of white identity. (And I am not denying that there were extraordinarily significant black examples of rugby prowess during this time, but they did so against all the odds.)

Blacks were expected to play soccer — even encouraged to play soccer — but they were given no resources to do so. And it is this point, coming at the issue from the perspective of our skewed history, which should make the Fifa 2010 World Cup so sweet.

The massive expenditure on stadia is but one aspect of redress. It is strange to me that some people (even today) appear to resent them. “But couldn’t that money have been spent on housing?” they argue, as if this is some kind of new insight. I dare say it could have been. But if it were, would we have achieved the level of international interest in the country that 2010 will bring? Would we have the massive tourism spin-off which will last for many years to come? Would we have had the infrastructure upgrades to our roads, airports, railway stations that have been fast-tracked and brought forward?

No, we would not. We would have houses. Believe me, I don’t want to knock houses, but that is all we would have.

There is one question, however, which I don’t know the answer to. Can we ensure that the stadia are going to be used after 2010? That is, it seems to me, a very important question and I think it is one which is going to need to be addressed long before the final whistle of the World Cup.

What I do know is that the World Cup will give us better resources for football than we have had before. The imbalance will be well redressed in the area of infrastructure. But the legacy, if it is to be sustained, will need not so much to be looking outwards, to foreign nations coming to play on our soil, but among our own people.

In other words, it really is no good redressing the balance, if football is not properly resourced, if coaches are not adequately trained, if clubs are not encouraged and schools do not have basic facilities. The next step beyond building stadia, is building capacity. If we are serious and as single-minded about this as we have been about building infrastructure, the results will be staggering. It is not too difficult to show that young people who play sport are less likely to participate in any number of available forms of anti-social behaviour.

In a phrase coined by the department in which I work: “A child in sport is a child out of court”. That needs to be the legacy of 2010, if anything is.

• Michael Worsnip is director: 2010 World Cup Unit, Western Cape Province, Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport. He writes in his personal capacity.

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