One year after South Africa’s world cup triumph and the criticism continues

It was with a great sense of nostalgia that I watched the closing ceremony of the Soccer World Cup in 2010, knowing that it would be some time before South Africa would host anything of that size again.  Like many others I’m sure, I was also overcome with an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment, knowing that South Africa had defied so many critics and nay-sayers who questioned their very ability to host the World Cup successfully.

A year on, people are reflecting on the event and what South Africa gained from the experience.  The usual suspects in the English media, still seething from their own world cup snub by FIFA, have taken it upon themselves to once again drag the name of South Africa through the mud.  Perhaps this forms part of the larger battle the FA is fighting against FIFA, whereby they try to discredit the process of venue selection, but it’s high time they built the proverbial bridge and ‘get over it’.

A particular article in question was in yesterday’s Times.  The headline ‘World Cup legacy leaves South Africa with issues to address’ looks like it was thought of during the closing ceremony and then dusted off for the one year anniversary.  In it, the writers Matt Dickinson and Jonathan Clayton claim that this may have been FIFA’s greatest world cup, but ‘others take a different view’.  (Interestingly, a search through their archives shows a long history of cynical articles relating to South Africa’s World Cup).

The article is riddled with outlandish and provocative statements, of which a couple are worth examining.  ‘Poor have yet to reap any award from last year’s spectacle’ is a common allegation leveled at South Africa, and a fair point.  But when in the years leading up to the world cup was it ever claimed that they would?  South Africa is an extremely uneven society, and it will take a lot more than a soccer tournament to change that.  But to claim that none have benefited is disingenuous, ignoring the obvious employment opportunities and facility improvements  that took place across the country.  Nobody expected these problems to go away overnight, but the world cup certainly went some way to improving them.

Another criticism is of the ‘white elephant’ stadiums that are dotted around the country.  This cannot be said of Soccer City, which if anything is suffering from overuse and the local Golden Lions Rugby Union are soon to move their from Ellis Park Stadium.  It is only a matter of time before the magnificent Cape Town stadium is used by the Western Province Rugby Union for their home games as they grow out of the small Newlands ground they currently use.  Empty stadiums do exist, such as the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, but this stadium was always going to suffer from this as it is based in a fairly low populated area.  Lets not forget that it was FIFA who ordered the building of new stadiums rather than the use of current ones, not the South African government.

A recent documentary on Al Jazeera told the story of Global Girl Media, which trained a group of young Soweto girls in the basics of journalism and allowed them access to cover the tournament, and one year on they all describe how the experience changed their lives.  South Africa is already a popular destination for movie filming, and as Time reports this industry is expected to expand in the wake of the publicity it has been receiving.

There are two important points that this article, and other nay-sayers completely misunderstand.  Firstly, how the perception of South Africa has changed because of the World Cup.  Tourism over the next few years is expected to dramatically increase because of the positive publicity broadcast over the world for those six weeks, as explained here by the South African Tourism Minister.  Every person I talk to in the UK speaks positively of South Africa’s World Cup, that has to count for something.

Secondly, if these writers had bothered to ask ordinary South Africans how they felt about the World Cup, I’m sure they would have received a positive response.  It was not that long ago that Soweto was the centre of the battle against the Apartheid regime, and in 2010 it was the scene of the Soccer World Cup Final – the very thought of it brings back goosebumps.  The joy and celebration of the World Cup cannot be measured, it is something that has to be experienced.  Even the disappointment of Bafana Bafana not reaching the next round did not dampen the spirits of South Africans during those magical six weeks.

South Africa does have major issues that need addressing, these existed before and after the World Cup.  It is a young and vibrant democracy that, in my opinion, is doing phenomenally well in the wake of it’s traumatic history.  South Africa should be saluted for the successful host ing of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, and I hope to see the Olympic Games being hosted there in my lifetime too.

Published in: on June 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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