Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The World Cup - a vehicle for equitable wealth sharing and socio-economic development or just a shameless money-making tool for FIFA?

The Federation Internationale de Football Association, better known as FIFA, sees itself as the principle bastion of the beautiful game around the world. It's slogan "For the game, for the world", and aim to use football "as a symbol of hope and integration", certainly send out the right signals. When South Africa was chosen to host the 2010 World Cup, many both inside and outside the country imagined that staging such a prestigious event would help to improve the lives of thousands of South Africans along the lines of FIFA's mission to "develop the game, touch the world, build a better future". It doesn't take an expert to work out that this simply hasn't happened, and that FIFA's warm, fuzzy rhetoric doesn't exactly conform to reality. Originally South Africa agreed to spend 6.7 billion rand to bring their stadia up to the required standard when they were awarded the tournament in 2004. This cost has swelled to 9.8 billion rand, a not inconsiderable increase, and one that a country with the significant levels of poverty and socio-economic disparity of South Africa can really ill-afford. Chief Organiser Danny Jordaan has said that he expects the cost to rise beyond the 10 million rand mark, and this understandably leads to the question, is it all worth it? By the end of the tournament South Africa may have a string of shiny new, or at least recently updated stadia, and great memories of watching their own side and some of the best footballing nations in the world, but what good will these be to the millions of South Africans living below the poverty line, struggling to deal with the burden of AIDS, and battling daily just to feed themselves and their families? My answer is very little.

The success of the deliberately-mispelled 'Fick Fufa' t-shirts in South Africa demonstrates that its beleaguered fans are beginning to fight back against FIFA's hegemony. A local South African newspaper had the following to say after the now infamous 'beer girls' episode: "Big Brother is here and FIFA is thy name". Undoubtedly FIFA would wish to protect the World Cup as its own tournament, but to enforce the rigorous trade rules which it has and to behave in such an intolerant, domineering manner to local businesses and traders looking justifiably to profit from having such a prestigious tournament taking place in their back-yard leaves a very sour taste in the mouth indeed. Discount South African airline Kukula felt the full force of FIFA's rigorous and unflinching protection of its own interests earlier this year, when it ran a tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign featuring sketches of a football stadium and a player, and described itself as the Unofficial National Carrier of You-Know-What. FIFA turned said campaign into a huge issue, forcing Kukula to withdraw the advertisement after threatening it with a lawsuit. The injustice, as some would describe it, doesn't even end here. A local cash-and-carry chain was castigated by FIFA simply for selling lollipops branded as '2010 Pops', and actually taken to court. Personally I find it difficult to take in that an organisation as rich and supposedly committed to justice, fair play and equality, could adopt such an intransigent, stubborn and selfish attitude towards people simply attempting to better themselves, something FIFA's mission statement appears to encourage. FIFA has been quick to excuse its outrageous behaviour, claiming that it has to protect the World Cup brand as its most precious asset." Personally excuses such as this simply do not wash, and are indicative of a self-serving organisation looking to portray itself as a bastion of social and economic progress, whilst lining its own pockets at the expense of others.

Now perhaps I'm doing FIFA a disservice here. After all the international governing body of association football has made concessions to its hosts. Setting aside 800,000 cheaper match tickets for local residents and bailing out the organising committee to the tune of $100 million appear to render my previous comments inaccurate and harsh. Or do they? Providing cheaper match tickets shouldn't be something for which FIFA deserves to be commended, it should be a mandatory part of the 'World Cup experience'. If local fans were to be unable to enjoy what is a once in a lifetime experience, with no consideration is given to their socio-economic limitations, it would be nothing short of a travesty. Furthermore whilst providing $100 million dollars is commendable, and I'm sure was very helpful indeed in ensuring that the tournament actually took place, FIFA would never have contemplated South Africa failing to host the World Cup. So their generous 'payment' to the South African organising committee is actually nothing more than FIFA protecting its own interests. Brendan Seery, a columnist with Johannesburg's Saturday Star, recently wrote: "FIFA has turned this country into its private little fiefdom and we've been quite happy to put aside the constitutional freedoms we are known for to satisfy those money-grubbing Europeans (which most of them are)." The evidence would suggest th at Mr. Seery is correct. FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke has lamented FIFA's poor standing in the host country, saying "Whatever we're doing we will never be seen as a nice organization," whilst later admitting "For a few things, it will be seen as, yes, we are taking over."

The price of this 'take over' has already been paid by a significant number of ordinary South Africans. To ensure that attending fans from Europe, South America, Asia and other African nations recieve the World Cup 'experience' FIFA wishes them to have, many locals have been evicted, displaced and forcibly removed from their homes and places of business. Being branded "unsightly", it is starkly clear to myself and others that FIFA simply wants to hide the reality of life in many South African cities behind a succession of shiny new, or at least revamped football stadiums. FIFA has, by demolishing the ramshackle houses of those unfortunate enough to live near World Cup venues, destroyed the dreams of many who thought that hosting such a prestigious tournament would benefit them and other South Africans alike. Perhaps all those nations, such as England, France and Italy, who underachieved at this tournament should gain a sense of perspective by visiting the various shanty towns and disadvantaged communities for more than just a couple of hours, without television cameras watching their every move. Whilst they are at it they can bring Sepp Blatter and his cronies down with them, to see exactly what the World Cup has brought to South Africa. The decision of the Anti-Eviction Campaign, started in opposition to the ruthless exploitation of poor communities and devastation caused to so many lives, to initiate the 'Poor People's World Cup', is one I and others ought to laud. Amidst all the excitement and euphoria of the Rainbow Nation coming together as one to support their team, a large number of people have been fundamentally let down by football's international governing body, and other South Africans in high places who have overseen the country's preparation for the tournament.

As Ashraf Cassiem, chairman of the anti-eviction campaign, says: "It [The World Cup] was supposed to bring people together". This may have happened superficially, but underneath the surface the disparity has only become more pronounced. “Traders have been evicted for months now and aren’t getting any income; families have been forced to move to temporary relocation areas; street people have been forced to move into institutions because the cities must look nice,” says Cassiem, rightly outraged by a series of broken promises and shattered dreams. The fact that the $4.3 billion spent on improving and bringing up to standard existing stadia and building new grounds could have been used to, if not solve, then certainly bring some relief, to the disastrous housing situation in the Western Cape, should put football, and England's most recent failure firmly into perspective. With the poorer communities evicted from their demolished homes and pushed out of the way of the thousands of supporters descending on South Africa from abroad having been put in "decant camps" and "temporary relocation areas", it is clear that no matter the result on the pitch, disadvantaged South Africans have already lost out. Described by the Guardian as "miserable twilight zones" and "tin can towns", what does the government have planned for those unfortunate enough to have been placed in them when the tournament is over? As a parting statement, Cassiem has the following to say: "This World Cup was supposed to expose South Africa and put it on the map. It’s put the stadiums on the map definitely - but not the people." If this is FIFA's legacy for South Africa, then issues such 'ambush marketing' and the desire to 'protect FIFA's interests' have seen it exposed as the shameless, unprincipled, exploitative organisation many South Africans have lamentably discovered it to be.

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