A painful hangover

2011-07-08 00:00

JUST a year ago South Africa was at the end of its month of euphoria, otherwise known as the Fifa World Cup. Flags and mirror socks in the national colours were not quite so evident after Bafana Bafana's unfortunate early exit and the vuvuzelas were a trifle muted, but the national mood was upbeat.

The long lead-up to the World Cup had involved minimal critical comment or serious analysis. Hype trumped reason, and dissent from the prevailing rhetoric and propaganda was deemed highly unpatriotic. As soon as the event was over, media coverage shifted to legacy and justification for the massive resources expended.

The extent of these is a matter of opinion, but the total cost to South Africa was probably R100 billion, a third of it spent directly on infrastructure, an expensive stage for Fifa's entertainment ambitions. It was often touted as a creator of employment, but the net loss for the half year before the World Cup started was a massive 232 000 jobs, albeit at the tail end of a global recession. By comparison, Fifa coined $4,2 billion in tax-free revenue, 59% up on 2006, and a massive surplus of $1,28 billion. Yet recently it has been announced that South Africa cannot afford R40 billion to achieve its land reform target, a crucial factor in national socioeconomic stabilit­y.

A very tangible legacy is an oversupply of football stadia, white elephants built and now maintained with taxpayers' money. Polokwane Municipality pays R17 million of the R23 million annual upkeep of the Peter Mokaba Stadium. Bizarrely, teams like Kaizer Chiefs charge up to R500 000 plus transport in appearance fees at such stadia. The buying of games has become increasingly competitive and spectator buses are also subsidised.

Among the new stadia only Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) has a permanent tenant. Green Point Stadium (costing R4,4 billion) and Moses Mabhida (R3,4 billion and named after a stalwart communist) were vanity projects and neither has a regular occupant. Both are distant from football-supporting communities and have famous nearby rugby venues whose users show no signs of relocating. Green Point costs R46,5 million per annum to maintain. A more modest facility built in Athlone could now be justifying itself. No one seems to have noticed that South African football has been partially nationalised — perhaps someone should call Juliu­s Malema and give him the good news.

As letters to this newspaper have recently suggested, the administration of football at local level has gained little or nothing from the World Cup, especially in the area of inclusivity. Nor is there any evidence that the game is better supported or is contributing to nation-building. This is no surprise: such developments must be rooted in communities and will not emerge out of an imported circus driven by commercial imperatives.

A year on and, unsurprisingly, the World Cup has left a remarkably light footprint. The heavy hand of Sepp Blatter and his officials, which undermined national sovereignty in some areas, was quickly removed and South Africa reverted to normal, its strengths and weaknesses largely unaffected. It was a remarkably expensive party that perhaps went some way to counter Afro-pessimism. But if it did promote rainbow nationalism, Jimmy Manyi and Malema quickly destroyed it with their racially loaded invective. And few lessons about administration and organisational efficiency were learnt given the ongoing shambles in education, health and other key government sectors such as immigration control.

Mega events rarely benefit the host nation in a tangible fashion and generally leave a trail of local debt. Discredited trickle-down theories of economic benefit have proved laughably wayward, although the tourist industry has no doubt gained from international exposure and improved transport facilities, particularly airports. The poor of South Africa can look back and ask what all the fuss was about and why they are still living in shocking conditions with a housing backlog of over two million. The World Cup was a hang­over of Thabo Mbeki's African Renaissance thinking, hardly part of President Jacob Zuma's developmental state.

The Fifa family, as Blatter loves to call it, was the big winner. The game of football most certainly was not. The tournament produced little that was memorable and recent revelations about corruption have shown Fifa to be rotten to the core. It sucked South Africa further into the system of globalisation that effectively replicates colonial economic relations and has reduced sport to a commodity marketed by transnational corporations. There is, however, one glimmer of hope from the experience: the government had the sense to veto the expenditure of at least R300 million on a South African bid for the 2020 Olympic Games.

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