Here we go again

2012-06-06 00:00

THE ghosts of the 2010 Soccer World Cup are coming back to haunt South Africa. Less than two years on and with preparations for the 2013 Soccer Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) under way, the key lesson that should have been learnt from that grand orgy of egoism and money-grubbing appears to have already been stuffed right back into the closet. The lesson was that as long as the game being played is one in which a domestic and international elite is the player, referee and owner, whatever benefits accrue from such mega sporting events will be enjoyed by that elite while the people become spectators and are left to pick up the tab.

Unfortunately, it is the very same family of elites that continues to run the show. South Africa was ceded the rights back in September 2011 to stage Afcon 2013 after original host Libya pulled out due to ongoing political volatility. As was the case with the 2010 Soccer World Cup, it is the South African Football Association (Safa) through its Local Organising Committee (Loc) that is acting as the formal country host. This time though, it is a subsidiary component of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) — the Confederation of African Football (Caf) — that is the overall owner of the tournament.

True to past form, no sooner had South Africa’s host status been publicly confirmed than Safa, alongside the Department of Sports and Recreation (DSR), began to regale us with their predictably exaggerated rhetoric about how the event will bring (South African and African) pride and unity, about all the wonderful social and economic opportunities to be had and about how the South African people would be involved every step of the way. But just as soon as the first practical steps around securing host cities were taken earlier this year, the rhetoric quickly evaporated as city officials — no doubt with the experiences of the financially disastrous 2010 Soccer World Cup host city agreements fresh in their minds — posed hard questions about the character and extent of the costs to be borne.

Just as had been the case in the lead up to the 2010 showpiece when questions and criticism began to gather around secret guarantees/agreements and unilateral decision-making, Safa and the government have now cast a veil of secrecy over the entire process. In April, only a few days after the spokesperson for the City of Johannesburg had indicated that it was “not in a position to host games and has therefore not signed a host agreement”, and after officials from both Cape Town and Mangaung had also expressed serious reservations about their willingness to sign agreements, Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula announced an effective gag on all concerned parties from commenting on the process and preparations.

Mbalula’s not so subtle instructions were, “to desist from discussing the processes and implications of this event — financial, political or otherwise — until cabinet [has] considered our submission and pronounced on the outcomes …” But in case that message was not strong enough, he then issued a direct threat to anyone who might be thinking of blowing the whistle: “Any person or structure or body that ignores this message will be acting outside government processes and for that, we all know there are dire consequences for the implicated or affected party … We are organising a tournament here and we don’t want to embarrass the country.”

No surprise then, that after a deafening two weeks of silence Mbalula publicly announced that the cabinet had approved five host cities (Johannesburg, eThekwini, Rustenburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Mbombela). Further news was that the government would soon meet with Safa to “finalise the composition of the Loc” and had also established an Inter-Ministerial Committee to drive preparations for Afcon 2013. In other words, all key decisions took place in complete secrecy and with none of the promised public involvement anywhere to be seen. The best Mbalula could come up with was an assurance that the “details of the hosting agreement, including the budget, will be revealed once they have been through government channels”.

Fast-forward another two weeks and we find the Loc making a presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Sports and Recreation that eight months into the Afcon 2013 process finally gives us a small glimpse of what really might be in store when it comes to who will benefit and who will pay.

Having previously boasted about Safa’s capacity to fund virtually the entire event — in the context of Safa’s R800 million booty from the 2010 Soccer World Cup — Loc chief executive Mvuzo Mbebe told the committee that of the “projected” overall event budget of “around R400 million”, various arms of government will need to contribute at least R165 million, which includes R20 million to lavish on Caf VIPs in attendance. Host cities will have to cough up another R90 million, with Mbebe indicating that the Loc will contribute a measly R57 million. No information was provided on where the almost R100 million shortfall will come from or whether there has been consideration given to cost escalations that inevitably arise with such sporting mega-events.

Further, as was the case in the lead-up to 2010, no mention was made of how much it is going to cost the government (read: the public purse) to meet all the guarantees laid down by Caf. Like its Fifa godfathers, CAF is demanding that the host government guarantees: the tax-free importation and re-exportation of all Caf goods and foreign exchange, no restrictions on event-related currency transactions, the protection of all Caf marks as well as intellectual property and marketing rights, the implementation of an anti-ambushing programme, no restrictions on the sale and distribution of merchandising, and the provision of all telecommunications infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Mbebe told the committee that the Loc will get 80% of net revenue from rights to all “branded licences, merchandise and concessionaries”, 50% of net revenue from ticket sales (with the hope that 25% would go to host cities) and 50% on all merchandising income. When a committee member asked how Safa’s R800 million World Cup booty was being used, Safa president Kirsten Nematandani indicated that close to R300 million has been spent on Safa’s new headquarters, purchasing new Safa vehicles and paying the salary of a foreign coach, with the remaining R500 million having been invested.

Without a trace of contradiction, Mbebe followed this up by telling the committee: “We recognise that time and resources are limited and obviously we are going to be begging and knocking on all doors to ask for support.” The committee chairperson ended proceedings by stating that since the event is in 2013, there should be no expectation of any discussion at present.

As our ex-police chief, now a convicted criminal, liked to say: “Finish and klaar!”

• Dr McKinley is an independent writer, researcher, lecturer and political activist. This article first appeared on the website of The South African Civil Society Information Service

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