Let’s fly our flag proudly

2009-12-18 00:00

I WAS in the United Kingdom and Europe during the last Soccer World Cup tournament, and though not primarily a soccer follower, I missed very few games, always seeking out a hotel, pub or public large screen TV fan parks whenever a game was on. The whole of Europe and hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors in thousands of venues, large and small, sat enthralled as the drama of the competition unfolded. In Germany itself, virtually all other life came to a standstill as the final matches were played.

In England, the public backing for their team and popular support was nothing less than amazing, even after England had been eliminated from the competition. In the far-flung suburbs of London, virtually every home displayed and flew from their windows the ancient English flag, the Cross of St George on a plain white background. It was a show of mutual patriotism such as I have not seen before.

And now, for the first time ever, it is our turn. How will we fare? Will we cope? Are we organisationally up to it? Will the high incidence of crime, commercial greed and corruption ruin it all? Will the World Cup help or harm our progress and our world image, such as it is?

Before making up your mind, consider some facts. Firstly, soccer is the sport of choice (either for viewers or those participating) of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population. In South Afri­ca alone, soccer attracts 54% support, rugby 15% and cricket nine percent, while all the other sports share the balance. Secondly, between June and July next year, some 400 000 to 500 000 tourists will come to South Africa and visit many match centres and sample their regional attractions. Accompanying the official Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) delegation and sponsors (numbering some 8 000 people) will be several thousand recruited volunteers from all over the world.

Locally, the authorities will be recruiting hundreds of students and young people to be “ambassadors”. They will be on our streets, helping, guiding, giving directions, etc. These youngsters will help to provide a friendly, welcoming environment.

Fan parks are being erected with huge screens in every centre so that those who don’t have tickets will be able to watch the games live and in an atmosphere of tension and excitement.

All food and beverage outlets will benefit. All tourist-related establishments, hotels, B&Bs, backpackers and once-off house letters will do business on a scale not before experienced.

In the meantime, huge infrastructure is being built. New stadia, bus rapid transport routes and new buses are on the way. The upgrading of the metro rail systems and new rolling stock are all part of the makeover package. These benefits and the jobs they are creating will be felt long after the World Cup has come and gone.

The recuitment and training of many thousands of extra police is also well under way.

So what is still needed? I think it is now time for the rugby, cricket and other sporting authorities to get involved, and to announce what they intend to do to support the hosting of the World Cup. This means participation of their clubs, teams, players and supporters.

In every match venue, local urban regeneration is under way and hundreds of projects, large and small, are in progress in order to utilise the event to maximise development impact and create a lasting legacy.

This is not a time for politicking. We should all get behind and contribute to the brilliant success of the tournament on our shores. Let every South African buy a South African flag and fly it proudly at homes and offices, from fences, poles and upstairs windows. And let us all try to attend at least some of the events, especially if they involve Bafana Bafana. Let’s do everything humanly possible to make a huge success of the event.

To quote Andrew Boraine, CEO of the Cape Town Partnership: “The World Cup is not the be all and end all of the development of South Africa, but if it is run badly, this will prove to be a disaster for our country. On the contrary, if it is a major success and half a million visitors have a great time wherever they are in the land, we will have done more to defeat the perception of Afro pessimism than anything else ever could do.”

So the message is clear, not just to soccer lovers, but to all South Africans: let’s help where we can, let’s support our team next June and July, and let’s fly our flag.

 

• David Dalling is a former Member of Parliament and Parliamentary whip.

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