Sports  MASS discusses South Africa’s world cup prospects

Accessibility, home demolition, and foreign investment among the themes addressed

Since the 2004 announcement that South Africa would host the World Cup ok 2010, there has been much debate surrounding the country’s readiness. With June fast approaching and the recent events at the African Cup of Nations, football authorities are looking toward South Africa with a critical eye.

Last Thursday, the McGill African Students’ Society (MASS) hosted a discussion about the upcoming sporting event. Moderated by two of the club’s executives, the talk addressed concerns about the tournament and whether South Africa, and Africa as a whole, is ready to host such a monumental event. Inevitably, the issue of security was one of the major topics discussed. South Africa’s crime statistics are note-worthy: with 18,000 murders each year, the per capita rate is second only to Colombia’s. But among the discussion’s participants – many of whom had recently visited South Africa – the consensus was that fears about security, while understandable, are being blown out of proportion. The areas affected by violent crimes are not the areas where the matches will be held, they argued.

Sporting events in January of this year lent credibility to these fears when, during the African Cup of Nations, the Togolese soccer team was attacked at the Angola border. Togo withdrew from the tournament and, according to the African Football Confederation’s rules, has been suspended from the next two cups. Many commentators were quick to point out that South Africa is more stable than Angola. However, the memory of the violent xenophobic attacks and riots that swept through South Africa in 2008 was still relatively fresh. The riots were due in part to widespread fears among poorer South Africans about job stability, with the influx of refugees from neighbouring countries.

Another issue under discussion was the disconnect between South Africa and the rest of the continent. Some were concerned that the country chosen to host the first World Cup in Africa was the one with the greatest Western influence and the largest white population. Adwoa Oduro-Frempong, a U3 Economics student, argued that South Africa “is not very representative of Africa, or of its culture.” The only other African nations in the final stages of bidding for the tournament were from North Africa. It would seem South Africa embodies the broader African culture more than its northern competitors.

Hosting the World Cup is a prestigious enterprise for any country, but it is also an opportunity to attract foreign investment. In 2006, the BBC quoted FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, who said that the contracts signed for the South African Cup were already 25 per cent larger than Germany’s in 2006. At the time of Germany’s World Cup in 2006, total investment in South Africa had already reached $821 million – $100 million more than had been poured into Germany.

Accusations have been levelled that these investments are being used unwisely in South Africa. There have been reports that jobs created by investment are being outsourced to foreign companies and funds are being redirected from social programs to beautification schemes. Zuwa Matondo, a McGill law student, criticized the South African government for coming up with a plan that “lacks long term validity.”

The bulldozing of shanty settlements and their subsequent replacement with tourist housing sparked protests from local communities, as well as the participants of last week’s discussion. Tanya Mulamula, MASS president, saw the soon to be demolished houses on a recent trip to Cape Town. She spoke out against the event’s marginalization of lower income South Africans. “They should stop covering things up and change them instead,” she said.

Poor South Africans may also lose out when it comes to just being able to watch the games. The tickets, which will be available at subsidized prices for residents and citizens, are still too expensive for the average South African. “It’s like history is being made in your backyard and you’re not invited,” Oduro-Frempong said. Management student Michaella Munyuzangabo said it was irrational to believe that FIFA could lower their prices any more because “at that point they would make a loss overall.” Matondo noted that South Africa has the largest black middle class of any African nation.

Whether South Africa is ready to host the tournament is a difficult judgement to make, one that will only be answered in time. In light of these concerns, the media has diverted its attention from the actual soccer of the World Cup to focus instead on its social implications. Dwight Best, a Concordia student who attended the discussion, was quick to note, however, that “football is politics, too.”