Our big, fat 2010 rip-off

2011-11-15 00:00

EACH chapter of South Africa’s World Cup edited by Eddie Cottle is adorned with a Zapiro cartoon. Perhaps the best, showing Fifa president Sepp Blatter driving off in a car laden with loot and throwing a small bundle of notes at a prostitute sporting President Jacob Zuma’s trademark showerhead, sums up the findings of this book. In the words of Cottle and Patrick Bond, the World Cup was a “major rip off”. A slogan at a Durban march in June 2010 said it all — “Thiefa”.

This book was originally conceived as a study of the significance of the Fifa World Cup for workers in the construction industry. The quick conclusion is that it had little to offer in the long run — 70% of the jobs created were short term. The strike in 2009 was well supported by the public and produced a double-digit wage increase, but Cottle and Bond offer staggering figures about the widening wage gap between top managers and general workers. From 166 in 2004 the disparity grew to 285 in 2009: in other words, it would now take a worker over seven lifetimes to equal the annual salary of a managing director. Top packages (excluding share options) escalated by 83% between 2004 and 2009. And this was taxpayers’ money. The Competition Commission, reports Michelle Taal, investigated enormous cost escalation and concluded there had been tender rigging, but there has been little publicity about this.

Dale McKinley argues that this is consistent with Fifa’s ethos: it is a private, secretive and often corrupt body that uses the spectacle of sport to accumulate capital for itself and its transnational partners. Amusingly, he accuses this pre-eminently capitalist body of practising “democratic centralism”. In his view it is “rotten to the core” and he points to its intervention in 2010 over ticketing and accommodation. Yet it is vigorously courted by governments that literally prostitute themselves to earn the right to stage the World Cup. In 2007, South Africa passed the Fifa Special Measures Act that provided guarantees to Fifa, suspended certain constitutional rights and undermined its sovereignty over matters such as taxation and immigration control.

Mega events produce mega profits shared among elites. Trickle-down theory, like the economic benefit it is supposed to bring, evaporates in the face of reality, leaving crumbs and a transient party for ordinary people. Interestingly, Bond and Cottle present survey figures to show that the initial 33% of South Africans who believed the World Cup would benefit them had dwindled to just one percent by June 2010. They were not mistaken. Each one of these extravaganzas is preceded by socio­economic assessments that in retrospect turn out to be sheer fantasy: they are well-presented lies, monuments to blind faith rather than economics and designed to reinforce political agendas. This is how the original R1,575 billion budget for South Africa’s World Cup turned into R17,444 billion five years later. No wonder the bid books are secret. Profit is the objective and image and myth are used to maximise it. In 2010, Fifa walked away with R25 billion.

A number of the contributors expand on the meaning of world-class cities. They are enclaves linked by international capital and seen as economically self-sustaining, making event-led rather than people-focused projects so attractive. They need labour, of course, but want to take as little responsibility as possible for its reproduction, evidence that this is indeed a new form of colonialism. And as Pat Horn and Vivienne Mentor-Lalu remind the reader there are certain people for whom the world-class city has no space: street children, hawkers, anglers and sex workers, for instance, all of whom suffered during the World Cup.

Effort was made by Fifa to persuade the public that the World Cup was green. In fact, as Tristen Taylor demonstrates, it was responsible for eight times the carbon emissions of the German version four years earlier, mainly because of the amount of air travel, international and national, involved. Failure to promote an African World Cup simply expanded the carbon footprint. Above all, no consumption-driven event can claim to be green. Taylor points to the irony of South Africa funding the World Cup while borrowing massive sums to build two large, polluting coal-fired power stations

Such unsavoury characteristics of the World Cup are illustrated by several valuable case studies of white-elephant football stadia. It is well known that other sporting codes were not involved in their planning, although pressure (sometimes undue) has been applied to get them to move. But unbelievably, the South African Football Association was not consulted either. Whether upgraded or new, these were Fifa stadia irrelevant to the ongoing needs of the poorly supported Professional Soccer League.

Soccer City in Johannesburg is rated by Mondli Hlatshwayo as symbolic and unsustainable, its upgrade having undermined other projects without contributing anything to upliftment for local people. The trashing of the decision of the democratically elected Cape Town metro by Fifa and insult delivered to the people of Athlone are well known. The city now runs a non-viable stadium at Green Point at a cost of R47 million per annum. eThekwini is even worse, having funded a R3 billion vanity project for which there is, according to Aisha Bahadur, no economic analysis. The housing budget for 2007−9 was halved, yet 17% of the people of Durban live in informal settlements and three days before the World Cup semi-final there was a devastating shack fire at Kennedy Road.

But Mbombela (Nelspruit) takes the prize in a province of rampant corruption, zero accountability and Mafia politics that does not shrink from murder. Its stadium was built on redistributed land confiscated from its occupants and involved the demolition of two schools. A bankrupt city put on a lavish party to launch the stadium while local children struggled to get an education. The local branch of the ANC showed total contempt for the law and at least one whistle-blower perished.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this book is that it confirms major concerns aired publicly during the long run-up to the World Cup, fleshing them out with hard facts. Yet they were either ignored or denigrated as unpatriotic before the event; and are now forgotten as 2010 fades from the collective memory. Predictably, the legacy has turned out to be a mirage for most South Africans. The work of Cottle and fellow writers serves as a salutary warning against even the thought of Durban staging an Olympic Games with a mega, mega budget and 28 sports, not just the one, for which to cater.

• South Africa’s World Cup: A Legacy for Whom? edited by Eddie Cottle is published by University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

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