Soccer World Cup is not sport as we know it

The Soccer World Cup in South Africa is underway but aside from the enjoyment of the games (Bravo the All Whites!) there is little else to celebrate as the full economic and social cost to the host country is becoming apparent while the predicted long-term benefits are evaporating.

The notoriously ruthless Fifa (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) are calling the shots. They expect to make a profit of over $4 billion while loading the costs onto the South African economy.

10 new or revamped stadiums are being used at a cost of $4.5 billion – much of it wasted. Fifa insisted on a new $400 million stadium for Cape Town instead of upgrading the existing stadium in the so-called coloured township of Athlone because it wanted TV views of Table Mountain, not squatters.

The new Durban stadium – dubbed the “alien’s handbag” tells a similar story. Trevor Phillips, former director of the South African Premier Soccer League asks “what the hell are we going to do with a 70,000 seater football stadium in Durban once the World Cup is over? Durban has two football teams which attract crowds of only a few thousand. It would have been more sensible to have built smaller stadiums nearer the football-loving heartlands and used the surplus funds to have constructed training facilities in the townships.”

However it’s the needs of the sponsors which are paramount rather than the needs of South Africans. Andrew Jennings who wrote the soccer expose Foul says “The unaccountable structure (Fifa have) installed is honed to deliver the game to the needs of global capitalism – with no checks or restraints. Just cheques.”

The poorest and most vulnerable South Africans are expendable. Thousands of homeless people and shack-dwellers have been uprooted and dumped outside cities, informal traders have been banned from soccer venues and in the last few weeks the police have been active suppressing dissent.

Three weeks ago Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa told South Africa’s parliament the government was instituting tough restrictions on democratic rights to “prevent domestic extremism, strike action and service delivery protests” during the world cup.

In an echo of the edicts from the ruling regime in China at the time of the Beijing Olympics Mthetwa told parliament that no protests would be allowed within 10km of any of the soccer stadiums.

Local authorities are putting this suspension of democratic rights into place for Fifa’s sponsors. Within the last week protests organized by the Landless People’s Movement and the Anti-Privatisation Forum have been banned. The ANC government hopes these abuses of democracy will be lost in the orchestrated fever and contrived nationalist hype of the tournament.

Such are the negative effects on poor communities that the Cape Town-based Western Cape Anti-Eviction League is organizing a Poor Peoples’ World Cup. They say they feel excluded from the official tournament. They don’t benefit from any of the investments and can’t afford tickets or transport to get there. They say the poor are not only banned from trading near the stadiums and fan parks but have frequently been evicted from their homes and relocated to transitional camps.

So in protest the PPWC will be played on the next four Sundays with 36 teams from 40 different poor communities each representing one of the official World Cup countries.

Don’t expect to read too much about the world cup negatives in our newspapers or media outlets. The all-powerful Fifa requires journalists to agree not to bring Fifa into disrepute as a condition of gaining accreditation to the tournament. They define disrepute as anything that “negatively affects the public standing of the Local Organising Committee or Fifa”.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation is playing along. Last month they refused to broadcast a documentary critical of the cup and its negative impacts on South Africans. Spokesperson Kaiser Kganyago says “our job is obviously to promote the World Cup and broadcasting anything which can be perceived as negative is not in our interest”.

South African newspaper columnist Jabulani Sikhakhane says “The biggest cost of hosting the World Cup will be the loss of dignity and the suspension of the rights of citizens that are the major Fifa condition for allowing us to host the tournament… Shame, not pride is what we should feel”.

All this should be of interest to New Zealand which is hosting the Rugby World Cup next year.

We have already seen hundreds of millions wasted in poor-quality spending and legislation introduced by former Sports Minister Trevor Mallard creating an exclusion zone for non-sponsor advertising anywhere near the rugby venues. Be prepared to also see attempts at suppression of the right to protest during the tournament here.

And so who are the most likely winners of the Soccer World Cup? There is intense speculation as to which country will take away the beautiful game’s biggest prize. But despite the competing interests my picks for the biggest winners are Adidas first, Nike second and Rupert Murdoch third.

ENDS

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