Football World Cup- Is there a real legacy?

Being that it was a stunning Saturday morning and I had my delightful daughter to entertain I decided to take her on her tricycle down to Fish Hoek sports field for a trundle around.

Whilst down there we stopped for a while to watch a junior football game which was taking place on the bottom pitch, in the corner nearest the baseball club. I managed to work out from the parents’ shouts that Fish Hoek was playing Edge Mead, and pretty much giving them a lesson in playing the beautiful game. Typical of a junior game for much of the time you could throw a blanket over them all and there was always the temptation to revert to kick and rush, but there were moments of absolute brilliance.

Later on in the day I was walking the dogs across the field and paused to consider the pitch that the kids were playing on. Whilst I appreciate that Fish Hoek has very good facilities, and at least the pitch is green with real goal posts and proper line markings, but that is hardly the point. We have just held footballs big show case event, in which South Africa were the first host nation to not qualify for the second round, and here are the future of the game playing on a pitch that I would love to see Christiano Ronaldo do his tricks and stunts on without breaking his ankle in the process. In deed, if an English Premier League game had been due to be played on the pitch the ref would have called it off, stating that the pitch was unplayable, and yet it is ok for our kids to play on.

In the post world cup South Africa the nation seems to be united in thinking that the tournament was a run away success. It proved what the country could achieve, showed the world how forward thinking we are and that this is a place where things happen.

New, world class stadiums were built, roads, airports and public transport were improved and South Africa had the best tourist advert it is ever likely to get.

And yet all is not as it seems!

Financially the tournament was a big success, possibly the best ever- and yet the biggest financial winners were FIFA, who walked away with a reported R27.5 billion, tax-free, windfall. South Africa footed the bill for nearly R40 billion in new and improved infrastructure and the profit goes overseas (is Africa ever going to get to keep anything). Ah, but we get the new airports and stadiums. Well let’s look at that one.

How many of the stadiums are going to be fully utilized in the future? Probably none, in fact it is likely that some of them will have to be demolished to save on the crippling running costs, since they are situated in areas without any large professional sports teams. Even the stadium in Cape Town is set to be a white elephant, since Western Province RFU doesn’t want to use it and the local football teams are unable to fill it.

So then there are the airports. I must admit to being a big fan of the new airport in Cape Town, but that was in the pipeline long before the world cup was coming here, they just made sure it was finished in time for the soccer show case. Then there is the King Shaka International, which every Durbanite that I know says was completely unnecessary.

In Cape Town we were going to get a great rapid transport system linking huge areas of the city. It was sort of made to work for the World Cup but is now looking likely to be moth balled; another huge waste of money.

So, the tangible benefits seem to be few and far between, mainly the legacy seems to have been a feel good factor and renewed optimism about the country’s future.

The tragedy for me is that in real terms we didn’t even get an improvement in the game of football in the country. That for me is a sign that FIFA don’t really care about the development of the game (which is why they claim to have given the world cup to South Africa) or else why has the future of the sport not been guaranteed in the country. With all the money that has been generated (and spent) on the game in this country, why does every junior club not have a good pitch to play on, proper equipment and a decent kit to play in? We have massive cathedrals honoring the game that will never again be full (some were never even full during the tournament) and yet the grass roots of the game were lucky to get a ball out of it. How much would it have cost to astro turf all the dust bowl pitches in the country? It would probably have not even been one percent of the profits that FIFA walked away with.

Here’s a quote that I found in on the Guardian Newspapers UK web site, in an article about the world cup:

“that this is still a country in which only half of all black families have flushing lavatories, 43% live on about £1.50 [R17] a day, education is in chaos, public health is a disaster area, an imminent resurgence of the xenophobic violence seen in 2008 is promised, even middle-class homes are surrounded by razor wire and CCTV cameras, and the number of private security guards at work, some 300,000, is double the manpower of the proper police (or it was before the World Cup persuaded the authorities to put 41,000 extra police on the streets in order to reduce the likelihood of embarrassing incidents involving foreign visitors).”

How better we could have spent this money! Now suddenly there is no money to pay nurses and teachers a decent pay rise and yet there was no struggle to find R40 billion for concrete white elephants. Where should our priorities lie?

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