World Cup 2010: People or Profit?

Ok, let’s get that fateful and painful November defeat out of the way, and exorcise what could have been: the tricolour rubber hammers; Trap this, Trap that merchandise. 

It still hurts, even writing about it, but life goes on in football terms.

At least the nationalist craw-thumpers and profiteers might be silent and think more about making sport available to the masses in a real way rather than the Aviva way.

South Africa

South Africa, for so long the pariah state for most of the 20th Century, that termed apartheid as natural law, will be hosting ‘the beautiful game’.

But with all beautiful things, there is the ugly side of big business football.

The enormous economic contradictions lie side by side in today’s South Africa; even after the end of apartheid. South Africa is the most unequal society in the world in relative wealth terms.

There has been enormous controversy around the ‘clearing’ of lands surrounding the brand new stadiums.

Similar to the run up to the World Cup in 1968 in Mexico, swathes of the urban poor, who live in abject poverty, have been removed from their homes to set up construction sites.

They have been forcibly relocated to what even the South African Press are calling “concentration camps”.

When the invisible hand of sporting corporate forces reaches out for the mega-events of world sport, anybody or anything that gets in their way will be ruthlessly removed.

Crass commercialism

The crass commercialism of corporate football will be FIFA’s 12th man.

The big players of the corporate world will be aligning themselves with every endorsement possible to market their products.

If you hate Fianna Fail, then you won’t like FIFA either. FIFA, football’s world governing body, is so hell bent on the profit bottom line, that the Vuvuzela (a long thin horn that is blown at football matches) was deemed to be a weapon and banned from stadiums.

The Vuvuzela brings a sense of atmosphere to matches in Africa. FIFA’s logic in trying to ban them was that the nice, prawn-sandwich heads watching on TV, might be put off by the racket and switch over to lawn tennis instead.  Imagine asking spectators in Ireland, to stop playing those silly drums of theirs, I think you call them bodhrans!

The real question was never about South Africa’s ability to host the Cup, but about the Cup’s impact on South Africa. South Africans were told that the tournament would boost jobs, infrastructure and the development of the country as a whole.

The cash-strapped government was lavish in funding the new facilities demanded by FIFA. But when the country was embroiled last summer in a series of massive protests by poor communities demanding basic service-delivery, local people frequently complained that public funds were being diverted to build stadiums and upgrade airports.

At the same time, 70,000 construction workers on the new stadiums went on strike against what they described as “famine-level” wages ($100 per month).

Eventually, some of them were promised complementary tickets to watch a match at the stadium they helped to build.

Now even this promise has been broken, as the host authorities try to maximize income from ticket sales (on which they rely because FIFA takes the broadcast and sponsorship revenues).

The people’s game?

But whatever the stooges of nationalist flag-waving, mass marketing, paranoid endorsements and saturated consumerism say, football should always be the people’s game.

The great passion of the South African people, whether they are there in the stadiums or not, will be the making of the World Cup.

What makes a great World Cup is the passion of the fans, the meeting of peoples from around the world and, of course, we hope, great football on the pitch.

It would be great for the continent of Africa to get a team into the Semi’s for the first time (watch Ivory Coast).

But, there’s no doubt, this World Cup is wide open. I’m guessing a Spain v Argentina final, and my plastic green shamrock will have to make do for Brazil 2014!