The World Cup

1. Hopes are high that sports will once again transform South Africa.

It’s the first time that an African nation has ever hosted the World Cup.

But it’s not the first time Nelson Mandela, who played a key role in winning South Africa’s bid for the games in 2004, has used sports as a tool for reconciliation. His efforts to unite blacks and whites by hosting the rugby World Cup in 1995 was memorialized in the movie “Invictus.”

Now that South Africa is hosting the most televised sporting event in the world, there is renewed faith that sports can once again transform. South Africans hope the tournament will recast their country’s image as a destination worthy of travel and investment — sustaining growth far into the future.

As this year’s motto says, Ke Nako. “It’s time.”

2. Opening ceremony location honors legacy of anti-apartheid struggle.

South Africa was banned from competing in both the World Cup from 1976 through 1992 due to their policy of racial discrimination.

But now 16 years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is paying tribute to its long liberation struggle by hosting its opening ceremony and games in the township of Soweto — the former home of Nelson Mandela and site of an historic and bloody uprising in 1976 that shocked the international community.

Police opened fire on students in Soweto protesting required education in Afrikaans, which was seen as the language of the oppressors. Hundreds of children were killed, though the death toll is still disputed.

Tragically, Mandela had to cancel plans to attend the opening night ceremony due to the tragic death of his 13-year old great-granddaughter earlier this week. She was killed in a car accident after leaving a World Cup concert.

3. The investment in infrastructure has been substantial, but will it last?

Critics were skeptical that South Africa could build enough infrastructure to support the estimated 373,000 tourists coming for the one-month tournament.

But the South African government made major investments to meet this challenge over the last five years: It has spent $660 million to build and renovate 10 stadiums, $680 million to upgrade airports and $460 million to improve the roads and rails, according to MENA Infrastructure. Even a 25-turbine wind farm was constructed to power one of the stadiums – the first of its kind – and an additional 1,700 homes, reported Power & Energy magazine.

All this construction has helped buoy the local economy through the global recession. But can the profits be sustained? According to CNN, history says perhaps not.

Japan has lost between $2 and $6 million a year since it hosted the games in 2002 because of maintenance costs for stadiums that are higher than ticket sales, CNN reported. In 2006, Germany made $2.6 in event-related sales but saw little long-term gain.

But according to the Financial Times, there is promise yet for South Africa:

World Cup spending – such as stadiums – accounts for only a small percentage of total outlays and with private sector investment running at 13 percent and the state-owned energy and transport companies both planning big investments over the next five years, South Africa is edging towards an economically healthy 25 percent investment/GDP ratio.

Projections by advisory firm Grant Thorton expect the World Cup in South Africa to gross $12 billion and sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs even after the games.

4. Not everyone has benefited from the World Cup coming to South Africa.

Critics say that the World Cup has done little more than expose the great disparity between rich and poor in the country and that the infrastructure improvements won’t be enough to create a meaningful change in the lives of most South Africans.

Claims that stadiums have displaced poor residents were bolstered by reports of police arresting and removing homeless people living near stadiums. Officials deny forcibly removing anyone.

5. Solutions in South Africa will take more than a sporting event.

Even if the World Cup stimulated economic activity in South Africa, the challenges there are still great. Eleven percent of the country lives with HIV/AIDS, two-thirds are below the poverty line and more than a quarter of the population is unemployed.

Though it has dropped significantly over the past two decades, South Africa’s murder rate is still among the highest in the world – more than eight times the international average. Last year, more than 18,000 people were killed.

Despite doubts that the games will be a panacea, many retain hope that the games will help the country step out from the shadow of apartheid, whose effects are still deeply felt, and re-brand itself as self-determined and stable to foreign investors, tourists and its own citizenry.

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Comments

  • pyamada

    Thanks for the great ‘need to know’.

  • Germaine

    Great info that is not being addressed by ESPN and other national media.
    Thanks .
    I love PBS.

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