||While it is typical to think of sporting events as a celebration of excellence in a competitive sport, meant for the players and the fans, the 2010 Soccer World Cup is not so much about soccer as big business. Multinational companies, with the assistance of various governments and media outlets, are able to use the World Cup as an international platform for product placement, advertising, and profit.
With the 2004 elections having come and gone, another date greatly anticipated by South Africans is May 15 2004. This is when the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) will announce which country will host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Unlike our recently held elections, this day is also of crucial importance to Egypt, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia: the four other African countries bidding to host the first ever to be held on African soil Soccer World Cup. The FIFA delegation visited all the bidding countries towards the end of 2003 to view facilities and infrastructure. In South Africa, to highlight the importance of their visit, they were awarded the same kind of VIP treatment as the British Queen, George W. Bush and other VIPs who have visited this country. The government and soccer officials in the South African Football Association (SAFA) went out of their way to make a good impression. Attempts to impress did not stop there. FIFA President SEPP Blatter was invited on April 27 to attend Thabo Mbeki's inauguration and celebrations marking ten years of freedom and democracy. Even the Madiba magic and the Tutu charm have been called upon to woo FIFA to South Africa. Former President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently visited the Caribbean, specifically Trinidad and Tobago, in a lobbying trip aimed at persuading the Football Federation to put their vote on South Africa come May 15.
SAFA and government have urged the public to support the bid with claims that the World Cup will result in a lot of positive spin-off effects including: foreign currencies boosting the economy, 159 000 short-term and sustainable employment opportunities, showing the world that South Africa is friendly to foreign investment, etc. In addition, soccer fans will get the opportunity to meet their international soccer idols such as Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Zidanne, Beckham, among others. With these promises, the public is made to believe that the event will be beneficial to all South Africans.
The government must realize, however, that a Soccer World Cup cannot be a solution to our massive unemployment crisis. Rather, we need to reconsider the economic policies that not only have failed to create jobs, but resulted in millions of job loses in the past ten years. Moreover, should the World Cup be held in this country, the government should consider that, much like so-called ‘black economic empowerment,’ the World Cup stands to further fatten the pockets of a few individuals involved with the bid, not the average South African. We also cannot count on the foreign investment anticipated from hosting the World Cup, nor should we assume that this investment would make any difference to the South African economy. It has been shown all over the developing world that relying on foreign investment in this way contributes to socio-economic problems. To put it plainly, foreign investment always comes with conditions. Often these conditions have detrimental effects on poor communities. We therefore should not hold our breath in expectation that this will improve the lives of ordinary, poor South Africans.
It is no secret that with the rise of corporate globalisation, big business and multinationals play a major role in our lives, and do so with full sanction by our government. To put it bluntly: the terms by which we live our lives are almost entirely dictated by big business. Our water and electricity is being privatised, and is now only available to those who can afford it. Even our health is held for ransom, with multinationals setting prices for medicines that are too high for ordinary South Africans. The list goes on and on.
But multinationals do not work alone. The South African government itself has become notorious for putting first the interests of big business. Just consider the government’s annual tax cuts for companies, its attempts to protect companies from being sued in the United States for apartheid reparations, and its own role in privatising basic necessities such as water and electricity at the benefit of large South African corporations. The Soccer World Cup will only serve to develop dangerous and consenting relationships between multinationals and the SA government.
That is not to say that football and sport in general has until now been left untouched by corporate globalisation. As witnessed in the last few tournaments, a Soccer World Cup is no longer just an event where fans get together in a spirit of nationalism and patriotism. Increasingly, the World Cup is becoming a platform for product and brand advertisement. In addition to governments, soccer officials and players with their fat paycheques also seem to have prostituted themselves to big business. Soccer teams wear particular corporate brands and most international players are endorsers of particular corporate products.
The Cricket World Cup hosted by this country in 2003 should have taught the public a few lessons. Not only were tickets ridiculously expensive, but even those who could afford them were required to wear certain brand names for specific games. Those in the stadium also were forced to drink certain beverages associated with the multinationals and big business that had sponsored the event, including Pepsi Cola and Castle Lager.
Indeed, the stadiums are decorated with various product and brand advertisements – so are the players. But turning the fans into billboards was, in most people's opinions, taking it a bit too far. It is clear that the real beneficiaries of our hosting the Cricket World Cup were not the ordinary cricket fans. Rather, the ordinary cricket fans were notably sidelined throughout the event, even at the Cup’s opening ceremony. The opening ceremony was for high-profile politicians and business people, and most especially those in control of the banking, aviation, hospitality, oil, and telecommunications industries. It is therefore no surprise that these very same people are bankrolling South Africa's bid to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The government, soccer officials, and big business may pay lip-service to the idea that the Soccer World Cup is really about soccer and the fans. But it would be naïve of us to think that the bid is being made for the 2010 Cup out of the love for the sport. Financial gains and product showcasing take precedence over all else.
I personally have no problem with soccer as a sport. I am, however, perturbed to see soccer – which has always been regarded as a people’s game – become co-opted and played by capitalist fat cats. I also note with deep resentment, the South African's government habit of attempting to fool people into giving their support for various extravagant projects in exchange for false promises. The multi-billion rand arms deal, for example, was initially touted as a huge investment for the country that would result in 63 000 jobs. None of these jobs have materialised. Instead, our limited resources have been utilised to probe corruption allegations around the deals. The public therefore should not necessarily expect the 2010 Soccer World Cup to change their lives for the better, as the government has promised. What I hope the public does do, however, is reevaluate the bid for the Soccer World Cup in terms of the government’s economic policies and relationship to multinationals, and to consider the ways that a corporate co-optation of soccer can widen the gap between rich and poor.