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South Africa Looks For Economic Boost From Hosting World Cup

June 10, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As Johannesburg prepares for the first match of the World Cup, Ray Suarez talks to Fred de Sam Lazaro about how hosting the world's biggest sporting event is playing out in South Africa.

JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez talked to Fred after he sent that report earlier today.

RAY SUAREZ: Fred, welcome.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Thank you, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: We have just seen your report on all the work that South Africa has done to prepare for the World Cup. How much is this costing the country in all.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s costing South Africa approximately $6 billion in just stadium construction and — and renovation. It’s taken 10 stadiums to — to put this tournament together, and that is just the cost of bringing those up to — up to standard and, in some cases, just building them from scratch. So, it’s a substantial amount of money for a country with the size of economy that South Africa has.

RAY SUAREZ: In such a poor country, with such a tremendous gap between rich and poor, is there a national debate over whether this was worth doing in the first place?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Indeed, and it will go on for a long time. These are things that are debated in much richer countries as well, that is to say, the virtue of holding such events and what they bring to the host country.

Now, this, of course, is the very first time that such a huge event, the world’s largest sporting event, is held in — on the continent of Africa. And, in terms of the intangibles, what it brings to this continent, that is where people see benefit that is difficult to measure.

Will it mean that this country, if it pulls it off well, will attract investment, will change its image, for example? It’s also very much a Pan-African event, as it’s being marketed, at any rate. We will see no fewer than 22 African heads of state show up for the opening ceremonies for the World Cup.

So, it’s a big deal for Africa. And how you measure that dividend is a very good question. In straight revenues to South Africa, tourists, 350-odd-thousand of them, 370,000, will pour in probably a couple of billion dollars. It won’t recoup the stadium costs, but there will be some revenue to the tourist economy here.

RAY SUAREZ: This may not be something that gets a simple yes-no, black-and-white reaction, because some of South Africa’s poorest people are among its most rabid soccer fans.

But are there those who are glad the World Cup is there and worry about all that money being spent on it at the same time?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Exactly. And it all depends on where you happen to be in the grand scheme of things.

There are a number of homeowners who were asked to prepare their homes, spiff their homes up, and they spent a lot of money to do that, in expectation that there would be people coming to stay with them as house guests.

In many cases, that has not materialized. It’s a bit disappointing. FIFA, the world soccer federation, has a very good deal for it negotiated with the South African government. The government has taken quite a — quite a bit of criticism for selling out too cheaply, for example.

So, it all depends on — on who you are, in terms of what you will get out of this at the very grassroots, personal level. There aren’t many vendors around stadiums, for example, because they’re not allowed under the FIFA rules for hosting this tournament here.

But, yes, it’s all across the board. What there is at this juncture is a great deal of fever, South Africans coming together, a great deal of national pride. And, at least for the sporting value, for the event, there is a great deal of enthusiasm. And that’s pretty unanimous.

RAY SUAREZ: As you mentioned, this is the first time the World Cup has come to South Africa. Is there both a desire among everyday South Africans to show the country off to the world and demonstrate that they can manage such an extensive task as holding the World Cup?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s a lot of breath being held — there are a lot of breaths being held that this goes without too many hitches. There have been a few odd mishaps.

There was a well-known — or a well-publicized robbery last night. They apprehended some suspects. There’s a great deal of nervousness and nimbleness on the part of law enforcement to show that this will go off very smoothly.

We’re also going to have a number of people, you know, helping the visitors out. I mean, it — they are rolling the red carpet out to put — put on the Sunday best in this country.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, if this goes off without a hitch, can it solidify the domestic position of the recently elected President Jacob Zuma? He’s had his problems, hasn’t he?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He’s had his problems, and there may be a momentary bump that comes from the visibility in which he will be greeting all of these heads of state. He will be in the ceremonial events.

But he’s been plagued by all manner of scandal, as I pointed out in the report a little earlier. But, beyond that, there are domestic problems and a great deal of unhappiness among people who voted and supported — voted for and supported him for not delivering on promises like bringing jobs to the economy.

The economy has lost jobs under his tenure, which hasn’t been very long. So, Jacob Zuma has a lot of work to do, is not perceived as being a very strong leader right now. And, if he gets any bump out of this event, it will be a very momentary and fleeting one.

RAY SUAREZ: Our Fred de Sam Lazaro joining us from Johannesburg, South Africa — good to talk to you, Fred.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s good to talk with you, Ray.