It’s a week now since l returned from watching the 2010 World Cup as one of a million spectators from aboard, hosted more than ably by the South Africans with the infamous vuvuzela and Makoya fun helmets, giving it all a distinctive African feel. Now, l ask myself what’s to be learnt from the World Cup 2010? Well, firstly, the World Cup has given South Africa something intangible and priceless: a deep sense of pride that it has taken on something difficult and done it well in the eyes of the world. Not surprisingly, many in Jo’berg want to build on the World Cup energy and collective spirit in the fight against crime and poverty.
Crime was a major apprehension for many sports fans going to the World Cup, but it transpired that crime was down some 60 per cent overall during the whole tournament, without a serious incident of any sort in areas like central Cape Town and Jo’berg. The tough job will be now maintaining that very low level of crime after the games with at least a commitment to maintaining the resources used to achieve that degree of policing during the tournament.
There is of course huge inequality in South Africa, with much grinding poverty, and pessimists have asked whether the world cup should have been the priority. But with the government’s proud boast that 2.7 million houses have been built in 14 years and 13 million are now in subsidised housing, they have had some success in changing the townships for the better for black South Africans. It’s clear that as South Africa leads the way in uniting Africa, global business will operate from a base there. Many of the local sponsors of the World Cup put out very strong pan-African messages, like the MTN mobile operator with its United Africa theme. Instinctively anyway many South Africans supported other African teams like Ghana once their own boys – bafana, bafana – were knocked out in earlier stages.
The world cup was also South Africa’s first real attempt at providing a modern, mass transit system with the new Gautrain in Jo’berg. Under the Apartheid regime, mass transit was primarily geared towards black people in dormitory townships, while whites were provided with world-class roads to get them to work. Although this may not have a significant benefit for poor commuters yet, with such viable alternatives in place, people may be encouraged out of their cars and onto public transport, which will in turn reduce congestion for all commuters, rich and poor alike. This is a legacy that can stand as a reminder of the unity that hosting the World Cup brought to South Africa.
l wish South Africa much success in its bid to hold the first Olympics on African soil in 2020 and this appears to be actively encouraged by the IOC with FIFA support. However, they need to sort out which city it should be based around – Jo’berg, Durban or Cape Town. They certainly have the stadiums and the infrastructure to put a very good case in all 3 cities. We could also certainly learn a thing or two from them like how to hold fan fests on big TV screens, as required by FIFA but which we lamentably failed to provide during the World Cup in London. A not too dissimilar failure to that of the England team performance, but that was to be expected. As Harold Wilson once said in 1966: “Have you ever noticed how we only win the world cup under a labour government?”
A version of this blog was published in the West End Extra on the 23rd of July.