Home | Features | March 10 | Countdown to the cup - SA post-FIFA

Countdown to the cup - SA post-FIFA

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"On Friday, June 11, 2010, the first-ever FIFA World Cup held on African soil will get under way in Johannesburg. Watched by football fans across the world, it will be a bold statement of the continent’s determination to revive its fortunes after decades of marginalization."

So states SA President, Jacob Zuma. The imminent World Cup is absolutely an unprecedented opportunity for SA to showcase itself to the world, but what will be the repercussions of that attention? Perhaps the spotlight garnered by the World Cup will be the impetus for dialogue and action toward a brighter SA. That is the optimistic outlook that is costing billions of rands, which some argue might otherwise be useful to salve the country’s wounds.

Infrastructure

In many ways, FIFA is a marketing bonanza for the country. The World Cup is expected to draw a cumulative audience of some 30 million viewers, an audience expected to be made up of more Chinese, Indians and Americans than ever before. It will be a celebration on a world scale, and the country will dress itself up and put its best foot forward (on and off the pitch).

The anticipated 2010 World Cup triggered the biggest infrastructure program in the history of South Africa. For decades, SA has been in the midst of a road and rail network project, but it was the World Cup that prompted the government to finally and truly commit itself to investing in the infrastructure, logistics communication and security that the country needs.

The major focus of this infrastructure development is, of course, the building or overhauling of the match venues and their surroundings. Hosting the World Cup will leave 10 world-class stadiums and other recreational facilities as shrines to the event. Soccer City (or FNB), for instance, the largest stadium at a 94,900-person capacity, received a R1.5-billion upgrade, and was completed in October 2009. In the short- term, the job contributed R512 million worth of procurement investment to broad-based black economic empowerment companies and 4,700 temporary jobs for the local community. The Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, which seats 70,000 people for the World Cup, cost an estimated R3.1 billion and created similar temporary employment. 

In addition to match sites, cities and provinces are footing the bill for training venues.

New airports and roads are being built to accommodate tourists, hoping to attract foreign investment. State-owned power utility Eskom Holdings Ltd. is also spending R385 billion on power plants and expanding electricity capacity to ensure that electricity outages do not effect games and there will be no repeat of the 2009 shortages that shut down mines—the country’s biggest export earners.

The economic injection for the country is being touted by observers as nation building, branding and legacy-making. Economists say the evidence is encouraging. The period between July and September of 2009 showed signs of returning economic growth for the first time in nine months, and ended the recession. In a country facing an unemployment rate of 23 per cent, according to Statistics South Africa, the boost in jobs was much needed.

These growth prospects are dependent on the continuation of effective anti-recession measures and the maximizing of economic opportunities arising from the World Cup, according to the Business Unity of South Africa (BUSA) Organization.

World Cup at home

Could this influx of spending be better focused? Is football too superfluous an expenditure in a nation where poverty and crime are felt viscerally and daily by its citizens? Or will it be that the World Cup brings investment into the future of the country that will pay dividends for years to come?

Most South Africans seem to be optimistic that it will. The results of a KPMG survey taken in December showed that a large majority of SA companies expect the World Cup to create new business opportunities. According to the second of six opinion surveys to be carried out for world football officials, 96 per cent of people interviewed believe that the competition will boost tourism, 94 per cent are proud to be hosting it, 92 per cent believe the World Cup will lead to improved infrastructure and 90 per cent feel it will improve the country’s image abroad.

This optimism is backed by data from the Ministry of Water and Environmental Affairs. An audit conducted by the Ministry in November showed that the World Cup is expected to inject R55 billion (US$7.46 billion) into the SA economy. The economic impact assessment conducted by the Minstry found that the tournament would also create a total of 415,000 new permanent jobs. Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi added that the Gross Domestic Product of the country will enjoy a boost of R33 billion in direct spending on stadiums and infrastructure and R8 billion will spent by fans and that ticket sales would generate R6 billion. Lastly, the government would take in approximately R19 billion in tax revenue.

30 days in June

President Zuma concedes the football tournament is “the greatest marketing opportunity of our time.”

The pressing issue is whether South Africa will really benefit from the World Cup and this infrastructure blitz after the World Cup. It would be no more than that—a PR campaign—to suggest that the staging of a football tournament lasting 30 days (yes, only 30 days) could transform the African continent and the lives of its people.

Leave it to an athlete to see right to the core of the World Cup. Former Cameroon goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell sums the importance of the games from his perspective:  “Football is just a game, it only becomes important when it does something for humanity,” he says.

It is the visibility of the games that may be their greatest legacy. Football will be the focus for South Africa in 2010, but observers acknowledge that it is shortsighted to think of it as the magic solution to the country’s economic and social problems. Hopefully the regeneration of the economy and attention on the country will be enough to overcome the costs of building this entire infrastructure. The debate over the long-term benefits of the World Cup presence encapsulates many of the difficult questions being asked by a nation where rapid change masks old problems. There is a determination to use the World Cup to bring benefits, not only in terms of infrastructure, but to change perceptions about the country and the continent. That would be the games' most lasting legacy.

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