On May 15th 2004, South Africa was named as hosts for the 2010 FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) World Cup, which is widely regarded as the greatest sports competition in the world. The opportunity to welcome thirty-two of the world’s greatest soccer teams (and their numerous adoring fans) was celebrated as proof that the African continent was making significant progress in its bid to contribute on the global economic stage. The initial announcement brought incredible excitement for South African citizens, as the 2010 FIFA World Cup was considered a fantastic breakthrough in the ongoing developmental efforts of the nation, for it was widely communicated that “every South African” would benefit as a result of the month-long tournament.
In the past weeks, FIFA announced a $196 million surplus for 2009, as overall revenues soared over one billion dollars. “The market trusts South Africa”, said FIFA President Sepp Blatter, making reference to lucrative television and marketing deals, such as Coca-Cola, Emirates Airline, Hyundai, Sony, Adidas and Visa. In addition, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa is projected to earn FIFA its largest revenues in history, with $3.1 billion in corporate sponsorship and broadcasting rights already secured for the next four years, and more generous funding likely to follow. In terms of FIFA revenues, South Africa is set to become the most “successful” World Cup host of all time.
With ongoing news of massive FIFA profits, the question lingers: What about South Africans?
As the June 11th opening match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup draws closer, South Africans have increasingly expressed their discontent at the massive disparity of benefits. For example, in July of 2009, South African trade unions led a nation-wide strike after learning that some of the 70,000 labourers assigned to building and renovating World Cup stadiums were earning about $1.50 an hour and others $5 a week (minimum wage in South Africa is supposed to be $200 a month). In addition, the United Kingdom newspaper News of the World reported how young Chinese workers in Shanghai earned 2.30 rand (approximately $0.30) a day to manufacture models of “Zakumi” – the official mascot of the 2010 World Cup (the product typically sells for $48). Also, reports surfaced that Adidas was manufacturing its “Jabulani” soccer balls (the official ball of the 2010 World Cup) in Asia as well, paying workers marginal wages, and leaving South African workers and industrial leaders completely out of the picture and unable to enjoy financial profit.
As multi-national airline industries increased flight costs to and from South Africa in the early months of 2010, and with expendable income of potential tourists reduced because of the global economic crisis, the amount of visitors expected in South Africa has declined steadily from 450,000 to 250,000. In addition, South African government projects on mass transportation have been met with heavy resistance, and port workers have also participated in various strikes across the country. All in all, hosting the FIFA World Cup is projected to cost South Africa far more than initially estimated, with stadium construction well over the 9.8 billion rand ($1.28 billion) budgeted, $1.5 billion spent on Johannesburg's Gautrain light rail transport system, and $90 million for security, including new helicopters and body armour for police. The country has also upgraded seven of its airports, and built an eighth, the King Shaka International Airport in Durban, completely from scratch. These various developments have added significantly to South Africa's public debt, in the hope that the long-term investment will eventually pay off.
The cheapest ticket for a 2010 FIFA World Cup match is 140 Rand ($19), whereas most will cost well over $100. While FIFA has offered free entry to a small percentage of construction workers and various local contest winners and schoolchildren, the fact remains that most South African citizens will be left outside the stadiums built by their own hands, while foreign tourists will have the best views of the greatest soccer players on the planet. The country has an unemployment rate of nearly 30% and the average monthly income is widely estimated at R2700 ($360). The country's most loyal soccer supporters are among the poor, and as they rarely pay more than R15 ($2) to attend a local professional match, their attendance at 2010 FIFA World Cup venues is highly doubtful.
As a fan of international soccer, I am excited for some of the best athletes in the world to arrive on African soil, and I am indeed planning to take advantage of the opportunity and attend a few matches. Nevertheless, while I am eager for the competition and ready to support the South African and USA teams, my conscious is troubled, for the question remains: What benefit will the 2010 FIFA World Cup have for South African citizens? Yes, one can find examples of a few development projects surrounding the tournament, but what about the “big picture”? What about the long-term? Will the quality of education in South Africa increase, or will less funding be allocated as South Africa pays off its bloated stadium construction debt? What will happen to the 70,000 workers who no longer have stadiums to build? Will South Africa see the boost in tourism that it seeks (and so desperately needs to pay off its debts)? What happens if it does not? What about the ongoing spread of HIV/AIDS? What about public health? What about land-distribution?
FIFA is expected to earn billions, yet South Africa is expecting to owe billions for years to come. Whereas foreign business leaders and a small number of well-connected South Africans will reap incredible rewards long after the closing ceremony in July, the debt repayment process will most certainly leave its most negative impact upon the poor and marginalized throughout the nation. And so, the most important questions leading up to the grand tournament is not who may win the golden trophy. But rather, I hope the millions of soccer fans around the world who will be following each match are led to consider the facts surrounding the event and boldly decide not to ignore such blatant exploitation. More specifically, my hope is that fans will consider not only what is taking place within World Cup stadiums, but also what is taking place around them.