So who’s going to win the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
Most probably not Bafana Bafana, at the bottom of Group A with only 1 point so far.
South Africa’s people, maybe?
Not really, argued panelists in War on Want’s event called, somewhat non-surprisingly, “Who’s going to win the World Cup?”
So who then?
The “other side” of 2010 South Africa World Cup was brilliantly explained by Johan’s Kick in the nuts to the poor and also addressed by other members of our gang, to use Bart’s great term. War on Want’s Thursday event raised additional issues on the topic. Its Chair John Hilary opened it by thanking to all the attendees for choosing the event over a Cup match on the TV.
Can South Africa afford the Cup? asked Miloon Kothari, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. More than a week into the Cup, it’s a question asked way too late. A country with around 40% unemployment and first or second place on the “most unequal countries of the world” list is hosting the most expensive Cup in the history of all Cups.
The rationale behind such events as the Cup is that they bring prestige and international recognition to the hosting country. “This is not a question of national honour. It’s a question of national shame,” said Kothari. Public money and resources drained to pay for this Cup raise another question: “Is it a justified necessity or unwarranted extravagance?”
For Phineas Malapela from South Africa’s Anti-Privatisation Forum, it’s all about the latter. He said that even though most poor people are proud of their country hosting the Cup, they won’t witness many improvements in their lives. “The only benefit for us is that we’ll be able to say: Yes, the World Cup was here.”
“We love football, it’s our sport,” Malapela said. But probably not the mega-hyper-fancy-FIFA-style. According to Malapela, corruption involved only widened the gap between the rich and the poor, and the Cup projects such as building stadiums and infrastructure allowed private companies, for example the steel industry, to profit at the expense of the state. South Africa is now more in debt to the IMF and its friends, while FIFA apostles continue to spread the misleading message of the glory the Cup supposedly brings.
Responding to all the injusticies of the FIFA Cup, South Africa’s direct action group Anti-Eviction Campaign organised its own event, The Poor People’s World Cup. They invited everyone to participate, without exception. I suspect FIFA chose not to.
The Power Point presentation by investigative journalist Andrew Jennings was called “FIFA: Organised Crime”. On his website, Jennings describes himself as the reporter who “has been chasing bad men around the world for more than three decades”. And chase he did.
In the case of South Africa’s World Cup, he said, “politicians betrayed their country and made some money out of it”. How did this happen? Good old corruption, profiteering and all that. But there’s more. According to Jennings, South Africa got the Cup only because Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, needed Africa’s votes to survive in his post. It was not about “putting South Africa on the map”, as it was always there anyways. It was not about the country’s “international recognition”, as it has been making front page news already (think apartheid and Nelson Mandela). It was not about “it’s Africa’s turn now” either. Jennings argued South Africa has the Cup because Blatter has his post.
FIFA, he said, can easily pass the mafia test. It fits the definition perfectly: hierarchy, strong leadership, ultimate goal of profit, and back-up from above if something goes wrong. By back-up, Jennings means politicians who participate joyfully in these affairs.
Lessons for the future
In October, India’s Delhi is hosting the XIX Commonwealth Games. 2012 will see the Olympics in London. Brazil will host the next World Cup in 2014, while Rio de Janeiro won the bid for 2016 Olympic Games. What can these cities and countries learn from South Africa’s experience?
These mega-events are one-off, short-term, and very expensive. Preparation processes have already begun. We were told that in Brazil, walls are being built around favelas, in order to avoid the “shame” of having them exposed to the world. In South Africa, at least two bylaws were passed in 2007 and 2008. Ashraf Cassiem from Anti-Eviction Campaign said one of them made begging in cities which have the new stadiums illegal. Another made it unlawful for local traders to meet up for their trading business in and around city centers. And then there are the Tin Towns with 1 toilet for 4 families, with gangsters, drugs and crime. Temporary Relocation Areas are not very temporary, their residents claim. They have been dumped there and forgotten. Brazil should avoid these crimes against its own people in preparation for the Cup and the Olympics. Can it really deliver?
It should, to avoid human rights abuses and pure absurdities in some cases. Cassiem told the story of a successful anti-eviction court case. 6 families won and were allowed to stay in their homes. But the developers got their way anyway. The 6 families now live surrounded by a car park, which was the primary reason for their attempted eviction.
As for London, which, some argue, cannot afford the Olympics either, the advice was to stop being “economical with the truth”. And allow disabled people to apply for stewards and other jobs the Games promised to deliver.
Let’s hope South Africa’s lessons will be learnt. Although homo nonsapiens has this weird determination not to.
Photo: Alex France via flicr