Ooh! Aah! South Africa!

Prospect Magazine

Ooh! Aah! South Africa!


Commentators who say that the 2010 World Cup will be a fiasco are ungenerous and wrong

England have qualified in style for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but there are no shortage of Cassandras predicting that the tournament itself will be a disaster. One throws a longer and gaunter shadow than the rest: the west London oracle, that venerable sports journalist Brian Glanville. Consistent and relentless, he opposed South Africa before Fifa awarded it hosting rights in 2004, after they won their bid, and at every step since. As the opening game approaches his tone rises to a new pitch of rhetorical fury. His pronouncement in the August issue of World Soccer magazine simply heralded the “impending chaos to come.”

Reading the entrails of this summer’s Fifa Confederations Cup—held in South Africa, and a kind of small-scale dry run for the World Cup—and adding his own special bile, his case against South Africa comes down to four things. First, the stadiums have soared in cost, and will leave a legacy of white elephants. Second, transport links between the cities are poor. Third, hotel space is limited. Fourth, there is a lot of crime.

The stadiums have soared in cost—you don’t say! On these grounds no mega-sporting event would ever be held anywhere. The South African state has no monopoly on these planning vices. That said, all stadiums will be finished on time, and all 64 games will be played when and where they were planned.

Transport certainly is an issue. Many inter-city roads are narrow and unlit, and public transport to some stadiums looks problematic. But Glanville has little concern and no empathy with the ordinary South Africans who put up with this every day of their lives. The fact that a couple of journalists had a tricky night drive does not amount to an argument; it amounts to a complete failure of perspective. The World Cup isn’t laid on just for the convenience of football journalists and tourists from the global north, both accustomed to a luxury travel package.

The same goes for hotels. It’s not going to be like the multinational business conference that was Germany’s 2006 World Cup or the beered-up, sun-drenched summer holiday camp that was Portugal’s Euro 2004. We are, thankfully, going to the global south—where most of the world lives, and things work slightly differently. Get planning, and get used to it.
Which leaves the question of crime. Over the past few years Glanville-the-oracle has been keeping tabs on South Africa’s crime figures. He has a particular interest in the appalling figures for rape and murder, among the world’s worst. But the vast majority of these victims are poor black South Africans, often women and girls. Does the oracle imagine that for the month of July 2010 South Africa will suspend its psychosexual crisis and unleash its full fury only on travelling German or English fans? This is scaremongering of the worst and most ignorant kind.

Yes, there are thieves, pickpockets and dodgy taxi drivers out there. To that extent the English fans will be at home. And yes, visitors will have to think carefully about their behaviour, and their state of inebriation. This seems to be a rather good thing.

If the World Cup is anything at all, it is humanity’s singular global festival of play: a celebration of universalism and cosmopolitanism. The decision to give it to South Africa was not irresponsible, but inspirational. The world’s commitment to Africa means more than handouts and lectures; it requires engagement by individuals and institutions on Africa’s terms, as well as ours. Glanville has been generous in his praise for African football and footballers. It is time that he, and others, extended that generosity to the people of Africa.

  1. October 17, 2009

    Rob Fielder


    The problem behind your argument is that you never outline what you consider the prime factors in determining who should host the tournament.

    Is it a nation with suitable stadia, infrastructure and the finances to lay on a global spectacle for the millions at home as well as the millions making the trip?

    Is it a nation with a proud tradition of the game and strong domestic support?

    Or is it in fact a nation which is completely unprepared and unsuitable, but which is thus suitably \inspiring\?

    If the aim is to improve conditions for the people of South Africa then we could do much better than simply giving them the World Cup.

    Instead FIFA, by an act of obvious tokenism in only allowing African nations to bid for the tournament, has only hurt the many fans who hope to travel. Furthermore FIFA’s decision to block book all the hotels and then hand them out to the media, competing teams and \FIFA VIPs\ has made a difficult situation impossible.

    To make matters worse most fans do not even know where their team will be playing yet and won’t until the draw in December. Due to the nature of the draw (and the follow my team tickets), many fans will be scrambling around for accomodation in Nelspruit, Polokwane or Port Elizabeth at a day’s notice, not to mention internal flights.

    But of course, efficient transport links and an abundance of cheap and comfortable accomodation is merely a characteristic of the soulless European hosts.

    Glanville’s concerns are legitimate (and were also echoed by Keir Radnedge, another World Soccer luminary) and only time will tell whether they will come true or not. Sadly I doubt many of Prospect’s readers will be the one to face the consequences in case of the worst.

  2. October 18, 2009


    Goldblatt’s critique of Glanville misses the point. Why is South Africa spending hundreds of millions of dollars (I assume) on a silly sporting festival, that is nothing but pure escapism? South Africa’s population has more to worry about than dodgy taxi drivers and poor public transport. It is a country in which the number of those living on a dollar a day or less has doubled since 1996, it is a nation of teeming slums and beggars crowd the major intersections of its dangerous cities, undernourishment and even malnourishment are rife, millions are unemployed. Along with Mexico and Brazil it has one of the greatest gaps between rich and poor, and it is growing. A World Cup, just what they need, that’s the medicine….NOT.

    Goldblatt’s comment that most of the victims of SA’s crime are women and girls, so male German and English tourists don’t need to sweat it too much, is well, simply appalling.

  3. September 2, 2010


    But of course, efficient transport links and an abundance of cheap and convenient housing is simply a feature of European guests without a soul.

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  1. SA’s World Cup: It’s Gonna Be Fine | Africa10-16-09


David Goldblatt

David Goldblatt
David Goldblatt is a writer, broadcaster, and the author of “The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football” (Penguin) 

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