Tickets, however, are only available online and there are a limited number of black South Africans who possess both the internet access and credit card necessary to procure lower-priced match entry. "To sell tickets online is very unrealistic," admonishes Cameroon supporter, Kini Nsom Sylvanus. "Checking my [e-]mail is a very difficult thing, let alone going to look for the website of FIFA to apply for a ticket. It is going to block many people."

The 2010 World Cup, like other mega-events before it, has also been criticized by activists trying to raise awareness of the poor, homeless, and under-housed South Africans displaced by stadium and infrastructure development. These are the poor that organizers hope will to be out of the tourist gaze.

One response by FIFA and local World Cup organizers has been to fund local sport development and health promotion projects. These will result in 52 new soccer fields to offer young South Africans the facilities in which to develop their skills and 20 new public health education facilities that will deliver among other things HIV/AIDS education. Other "social legacy" initiatives call for a reduction in the event's carbon footprint.

An "African" World Cup?

The vision of South Africa in 2010 that organizers hope visitors and viewers will take away from the World Cup is embodied in the signature venue in Johannesburg. Soccer City, originally built in 1989, has been renovated to bring its capacity to 94,700 and add 99 luxury suites. The stadium was the site of Mandela's first speech in Johannesburg following his release from prison and will host the World Cup's opening match on June 11th and the final on July 11th.

It is the largest stadium in the country and will be the flagship, not only of the World Cup, but also of a modern, refurbished South Africa. And its new design is meant to communicate an increasingly prominent role for South Africa in the world community.

As with Beijing's "bird's nest" Olympic Stadium, Soccer City's "calabash" design is meant to capture culture in architecture. This gourd, what organizers note is an "iconic African pot," is meant to transform Soccer City into a "melting pot of cultures."

Yet, the symbolism is not exactly clear. The calabash is used across the world in a variety of ways. To even attempt to define its single African purpose suggests the paradoxical challenge organizers have in positioning the World Cup as both South African and pan-African.

The 2010 World Cup was destined to be hosted on the African continent as part of a since-abandoned FIFA plan to rotate the event through the world's individual soccer confederations. The motivations for taking the World Cup to Africa were embedded in the vision of a single Africa (however inaccurate this singular view of "Africa" is).

FIFA, its partners, and other soccer interests also want to expand their brands and the reach of their sporting hegemony to include this large, growing marketplace. The sports and lifestyle consumer goods manufacturer, PUMA, for example, has launched a pan-African campaign featuring Cameroon international and AC Milan star, Samuel Eto'o, which includes retail outlets throughout the continent.

At times, World Cup organizers have resisted the notion of a single Africa. When asked about the implications for security in South Africa of the violence at the January 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, Irvin Khoza, chairman of the FIFA 2010 organizing committee, noted that Angola and South Africa did not even share a border. "The challenge posed by the attack," he argued, "is the misconception that Africa is a country, not a continent."

And, yet, the hosts have also intentionally fostered a pan-African vision for this year's World Cup. Following the awarding of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, then President Thabo Mbeki, whose statesmanship included a vision of "African Renaissance," stressed that South Africa's desire was to host an African World Cup.

Pan-Africanism has been a hallmark of South Africa's recent use of mega-event hosting as a diplomatic tool. The eventually unsuccessful bid for the 2006 World Cup was promoted with the slogan, "It's Africa's Turn!" and the 2010 event has been organized in concert with regional diplomatic efforts, including consultation with the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.

"This diplomatic approach," notes S.M. Ndlovu, of the South African Democracy Education Trust, "was designed to strengthen the Pan-African identify of the event and also promoted South Africa's leadership in this overall effort."

The World Cup organizing committee includes representatives from Mozambique, Swaziland, and Lesotho, while other nations such as Botswana, Namibia, and Angola have been kept apprised of the organizers' efforts in the hopes that the entire region will reap an economic benefit from the event.

A year ago, Mozambique committed $75 million USD to refurbish the international airport in Maputo to service World Cup traffic, while all the countries in the Southern Africa Power Pool have pledged additional electricity generating capacity to South Africa for the duration of the World Cup.

At Play on South Africa's Field of Sport

The sports embargo was once one of the prominent features of the anti-apartheid movement outside of South Africa. But even within the country, soccer was an element of the liberation movement because it was a black African sport. The 2010 World Cup, then, should be understood as "bolstering black South Africa's sense of self by putting its sporting culture on the world stage," in the words of journalist Adrianne Blue.

But as Mandela's "Rainbow Nation" enters Mbeki's period of "African Renaissance," hosting the soccer world has taken on a distinctly 21st century air. South Africa's civic and sport leaders are pursuing the benefits of hosting mega-events that their counterparts in the West have been asserting and debating for a generation.

But they are doing so in a distinctly regional way, not looking solely to signal South Africa's emergence on the world stage, but also to suggest that it is indeed all of Africa's turn.

World Cup 2010 Postcard (1 of 3):
Cape Town, 12 June 2010

It's like a hangover … without the suffering. In Cape Town, the morning after the World Cup's opening two games, the most remarkable sound is silence. Much of this city sits in a bowl beneath the Table Mountain range that dominates the skyline. Such topography creates a favorable sounding board for the plastic air horns -- the vuvuzela (pronounced voo-voo-lay-la) -- that have become the aural hallmark of South Africa's World Cup. Their bleating call sounded throughout Cape Town yesterday from dusk 'til dawn. This morning, more I suspect from euphoria than exhaustion, the horns went silent.

If the vuvuzela is the clarion call of the soccer world's arrival in South Africa, we met one of the loudest pipers yesterday on the boat to Robben Island. The charismatic and energetic man with the plastic horn turned out to be a guide leading tourists through the various settlements on the island, 15 minutes offshore from Cape Town. The barbed-wire-topped walls of the maximum security prison, Nelson Mandela's cell, and the posted remembrances of former prisoners were all reminders of the symbolic importance that South Africa places upon welcoming the international community to play the favored sport of black South Africans.

Our vuvuzela-blowing guide was one of many voices who have encouraged us to look past the apartheid history and current social ills for which South Africa, they fear, is best known. The earnest invitation from all quarters has been to celebrate with and for South Africa. And that message has been heard. Throughout Cape Town and at the stadium last night for the tournament's second match, thousands of neutral supporters have donned the yellow-and-green jerseys of Bafana Bafana, the South African national soccer team. Even the most patriotic fans seem to have added some Rainbow Nation color to their own sartorial displays of national allegiance.

This celebratory spirit was in evidence throughout Green Point Stadium, where a diverse crowd included thousands of Africans at an event many feared was (and generally still is) cost prohibitive for the average South African spectator. (Attempts to broadcast the Bafana Bafana game into the black townships throughout the country failed in Orlando, outside of Johannesburg, when the power cut out early in the second half. This was a stark reminder of the infrastructure problems that continue to be neglected, because of or despite the investment required by the World Cup.)

The experience of watching a sporting event is just as unpredictable as the game's outcome. While sitting in Green Point Stadium, watching some of the world's best footballers, was energizing, the game itself, between France and Uruguay, was a dull nil-nil draw. The winter evening air was windy and cool, and the stadium operations staff was still working out the kinks to ease the 45-minute wait for a hot dog and the knee-clenching lines to the toilets.

Four hours earlier, by contrast, we walked through Cape Town's posh Waterfront district looking for a place to watch the World Cup's opening match, the eagerly awaited game between Mexico and the host nation. FIFA and the local organizers had set up one of the city's fan zones in this neighborhood and the area was brimming with people. South Africans, black, white, and colored, as well as foreigners marked their readiness for a month-long party with enthusiastic vuvuzela playing while wearing all manner of outrageous soccer-themed costumes.

Those of us unlucky to find a seat outdoors -- and that was most of us -- had to scour the area for the few available tables at local restaurants, which was how we came to enjoy South Africa's entry onto the contemporary global sporting scene while eating ginger chili chicken at a Thai restaurant. We were surrounded by people from around the world, but it was the enthusiastic table of South African twenty-somethings at the table directly in front of the small television who were the highlight. They stood and sang the national anthem, they made their vuvuzelas sing in unison -- surrounded by middle-aged white tourists who probably weren't expecting a lot of honking in this part of Cape Town -- and they danced and sang when Bafana Bafana scored the tournament's opening goal 10 minutes into the second half. Sadly, the home side wasn't able to hold the lead, but the 1-1 draw eased fears about the competitiveness of South Africa's footballers when faced with the world's best teams.

It will be difficult for the final 63 games of the World Cup to match the opening game for drama, tension, and entertaining soccer. The subsequent France-Uruguay match was a reminder that all tied games are not created equal. And the traffic jam on the N2 out of Cape Town a day later was also a reminder that not everyone in this country has gone soccer crazy. The mass of cars that ground the national highway to a halt were filled almost exclusively with white South Africans, and the occasional away supporter, all headed to Newlands Stadium to watch the Springboks, the country's national rugby team, play the French team. Football, the global game and the game of black Africa, has come to the southern tip of the continent. Yet, reminders of the colonial past and rugby, the sport that symbolized South Africa's resistance to international protest against apartheid, are never far from view.

World Cup 2010 Postcard (2 of 3):
Durban, 20 June 2010

One of the great experiences of the World Cup is that it can be enjoyed in a wide variety of places with an equally varied group of spectators. In many parts of the world, soccer so grips fans' interest that it is often more fun to watch the fans than the games themselves. The last two days in Durban, South Africa's major eastern port, have brought that message home as we watched matches in the stadium, on the beach with the Indian Ocean nearby, and in an Italian restaurant cheering on Cameroon alongside the African kitchen staff.

The past 48 hours have confirmed that the stunning mediocrity of the traditional European soccer powers will be one of the dominant stories of this World Cup. At Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium, the Dutch bested the Japanese 1-0, but the losers played a far more positive game. The Dutch exerted themselves for the first seven minutes of the second half, during which they scored the game's lone goal. But the rest of the match was spent perfecting back passes to the goalkeeper and square balls between defenders. Realists would suggest that this is all that is needed, that the goal of group-stage matches is to qualify for the knockout stage. Nothing else matters. And perhaps this true.

But there was plenty of evidence elsewhere in Durban to suggest that teams that push forward, attempting to play creatively and generate scoring chances win the hearts and minds of (sometimes surprising) neutral fans, if not the games themselves. Neutrals yesterday afternoon were squarely behind the Japanese and cheered on Cameroon against Denmark later that evening. The fate of Cameroon's Indomitable Lions seems especially cruel. Having played attacking football, albeit lacking a genuine ability to finish around goal, they've lost both of their matches to teams that hung back, counter-attacked, and defended tenaciously.

The failures of major European teams -- including the Netherlands' winning but dreary form and desultory early performances by England, France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain -- has been the biggest surprise. Nevertheless, there is a very real prospect of having no African teams and few if any Asian sides in the second round. Given their generally enthusiastic play, this for me is the most disappointing sporting story as the World Cup heads to the third of three group-stage matches.

Results on the pitch, however, often have little to do with how the game is being enjoyed in the stands. And it's hard to imagine a more positive environment than being surrounded by Dutch and Japanese supporters. The renowned Oranje Army -- the Netherlands' orange-clad traveling fan base -- were out in full force yesterday, some of them having attracted a lot of attention by driving minibuses from Holland, arriving in time for the match. Regardless of how they arrived, Dutch football fans attempt to outdo one another by dressing in the most orange and most outrageous costumes possible.

Some Dutch supporters' outfits though have become rather infamous. After the Netherlands' first game a number of women, two of them Dutch and the rest South African, were detained by FIFA officials for wearing orange outfits sponsored by a beer company other than the large American brewery that has World Cup rights. The concern was "ambush" marketing -- although the beer company logo was rather small and placed on the hem of the orange dresses, and it was unclear, with American mega-beer the only brew available in all the World Cup stadiums, how market share was being impacted. Nevertheless, the two Dutch women were arrested and brought before a judge, charged with contravening South African sales laws. Pictures of the two forlorn (and potentially hapless, although all the details have yet to come out) women were splashed across South African newspapers. And the Dutch government lodged a formal protest. More informal protests occurred in Durban, where the same dresses adorned a number of Netherlands supporters for the match against Japan. The entire case seems much like an attempt to make an example of someone as nearly all of the Oranje Army outfits were sponsored by one non-FIFA partner or another.

The Japanese supporters were as joyous and boisterous as the Dutch and just as keen on having a good time, often with their Dutch brethren. A number of writers, most recently, the Toronto Globe and Mail's John Boyle, in The World Is a Ball, have remarked upon how the World Cup is unique in releasing people's inhibitions when it comes to dressing in ridiculous outfits, all the better if they capture trite national stereotypes. So a popular costume among Japanese supporters was the plastic samurai outfit (also sponsored by a non-American beer company).

For many of the rest of us, however, the signature South African game-time accoutrement (after the vuvuzela, of course) has been the makarapa, a plastic work-site helmet modified to display a fan's loyalties. Its name derives from migrant workers that toiled in South Africa's mines. Although the soccer permutation's late-1970s origins are a bit unclear, workers could have worn their helmets to games if they were coming to the stadium from work or to protect themselves from projectiles. Soon enough though the helmets were decorated with team logos and had sections cut out to display supporter loyalties. All of which is by way of saying that a Canadian-specific makarapa (complete with the official Soccer Canada logo), painted by a local Durban artist, will make it into my carry-on luggage with British Airways next weekend.

These kinds of African touches on the global game are what have made this World Cup so unique. The raging against the vuvuzela, primarily from European media and players and white South Africans, has focused on the inability of supporters to be heard when they sing and chant for their teams. (To be sure, however, many of the honking vuvuzelas are being blown by non-African tourists.) A backlash has begun, however, in local newspapers and letters to editors as black South Africans are asserting the cultural importance of their spectating practices. Indeed, it is odd to hear some people complain, in essence if not in words, that an event positioned by FIFA as Africa's World Cup is too African.

And, make no mistake about it, the vuvuzela played well -- not as easy as it looks -- is a rousing sound of call-and-response. This was demonstrated by the hundreds of local school kids who arrived to the stadium in Durban for the Japan-Netherlands match. Dressed in their school uniforms, dozens of groups of twenty or more filed into the stadium. Playing their vuvuzelas with a flair that few tourists have mastered, they were more a parade than a field trip. They high-fived and had their pictures taken with both Dutch and Japanese fans as they made their way into the stadium. And their presence behind the east goal livened and diversified a spectator atmosphere that was far more colorful than the match we were all watching.

A day later, we again watched a match with black Africans. One of the tournament's many "fan fests," where people can gather to watch matches on oversized screens and buy the sponsors wares at oversized prices, is set up along Durban's posh waterfront. For our first two days in Durban, there were primarily tourists at this venue, but on Sunday, with fewer people working, the Durban boardwalk more fully reflected the Rainbow Nation. Many of these people gathered to sit on the beach and watch the heavily favored and defending champions from Italy play the third-lowest ranked team in the tournament, New Zealand.

It was the only match-viewing experience thus far that has competed with the opening South Africa-Mexico game. The unfortunately named "All Whites" gave Italy all they could handle. And as the game progressed and the prospect of an upset unfolded -- at a 1-1 draw the match result was certainly an upset -- the Africans on the beach began rooting for the underdog Kiwis. To be sure of more immediacy for local fans was the measure of hope that Bafana Bafana could take from an outsider competing with a world soccer power (South Africa probably need to defeat 2006 finalists France by four goals to have any hopes of progressing to the next round).

But it was a remarkable scene nonetheless. In fact, it was two days of remarkable spectating in Durban. In a country colonized initially by the Dutch, Durban was painted orange by a considerable number of locals wearing the colors of the Netherlands football team, no doubt because Dutch fans bring the good times with them. The next day, on the beach, Africans who suffered under apartheid cheered on the nation that was among one of the few to continue playing sport, more often rugby and cricket than soccer, with the apartheid government's segregated teams. The country that was the scene of some of the most heated anti-apartheid protests, when the South Africa's Springboks rugby team toured New Zealand, found its soccer team cheered on by the victims of the very system that generated such protests. Ironies abounded in Durban, if you were looking for them.

World Cup 2010 Postcard (3 of 3):
Johannesburg, 25 June 2010

Before arriving in the teeming metropolis of Johannesburg, we enjoyed a more bucolic setting. Even the town name, Hazyview, suggested relaxation in sunshine. Hayzview is located about 45 minutes' drive from Nelspruit, the World Cup venue where we were able to take in our third and final match of the tournament.

All the horror stories of African notions of event organizing – and indeed the first match at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium had felt like a cattle call – were bound to come to fruition as for the first time we drove to a match, planning to use the "park-and-ride."  But then a strange thing happened. We waited in the car to enter the parking lot, we merged with a large crowd walking towards the buses, we lined up, got on a bus fairly quickly (it's all relative), enjoyed the gospel music selected by our bus driver for the 15-minute ride to the stadium, and then after a fairly quick walk we found ourselves staring at the brand-new Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit as the Serbian and Australian teams and fans prepared for their final group-stage match.

The strange part? The entire process transpired exactly as it was supposed to. No paternalistic "African" quirks. No epic waits as bewildered security attempted to sort everything out. Travel and entry to the stadium were pretty much as they would be anywhere else in the soccer world. And standing before a stadium meant to evoke African fauna – the supporting towers suggest giraffes, while the black and white seats mimic, when empty, a zebra pattern – it was quite clear, despite the years of doubt and worry: Africa can do this.

That's not to suggest that this event has not been without its problems and scandalous moments. The South African press seems particularly attuned to these.  Once it was clear that matches were going off without organizational glitches, the media turned its attention to scandals. And there were plenty. Stadium security staff, asserting that they had be paid considerably less than promised, went on a series of rotating strikes across World Cup venues. Even more unseemly, government auditors revealed that an array of state ministries and departments had spent public funds – millions of Rands of public funds – on tickets for civil servants and public contractors.

Given such news, in the face of an otherwise successful hosting of the world's largest sporting event, indeed perhaps the largest global event period, it is worth asking whether it has all been worth it for South Africa – given the substantial government investment in a country with uneven infrastructure and widespread poverty. Certainly there are some doubts that South Africa will reap the financial and tourism rewards that are touted as the prime benefits of sporting mega-events. During the World Cup, reports surfaced – accompanied by some great editorial cartoons – that FIFA stood to make a substantial profit on this World Cup ($3.2 billion), but that only a fraction of that will filter into South African confers.

Anecdotal evidence from a journey through the South African tourist industry suggests that things are not as busy as expected. According to taxi drivers in Durban, the city is busier than it normally is at this time of year, but many of the tourists are travelling in tours that hire buses so there is in fact less "cash business" (their term) for taxi operators. Meanwhile, people who offer accommodations in places that are not World Cup venues but which are typical tourist destinations – such as the resorts on the coast of the Western Cape where whale watching is both breathtaking and big business – told us that business was considerably slower than they'd been led to expect. It seems that soccer tourists are not venturing hours away from host cities to take in other sites. And, some in the tourist industry complained, that with people saving to visit South Africa during the World Cup the usual February tourist season was much slower this year.

Kruger National Park, an hour's drive or less from Nelspruit, is probably the most significant exception to this trend. There, park rangers are struggling with the influx of tourists to South Africa's best-known game park, with the biggest challenge being tourists more accustomed to "zoo" settings stopping their cars (and getting out!) to get the best possible photos of some of the world's better-known carnivores. The other feeding frenzy is taking place in Johannesburg, the only city with two World Cup stadia (Soccer City and Ellis Park) – and easy driving distance from a handful of other venues. As a result, the city is the only one (with the possible exception of Durban, which has the benefit of being balmy at this time of year) where hotel rooms are hard to come by.

But scarcity is not the only thing affecting hotel business. While the country was promised a financial boon, many of South Africa's hotel operators have decided to take their pound of flesh by jacking up their rates – and this is especially true in Johannesburg. Hoteliers elsewhere are suffering for it. Because of the centrality of Jo-burg to so many venues, we met more than one person who just remained in the capital and drove to games in other cities without staying the night contributing little to the local economy in host cities. In the extreme, one pair of Brits balked at the accommodation costs in Port Elizabeth and drove the 12 hours to PE, watched England's dreary tie with Algeria, before immediately hopping in their car and driving back to Jo-burg.

In defense of the South African tourist industry, we heard a slew of complaints about FIFA's tourist company, Match. We were told that Match insisted that any accommodations that wanted to be listed with them, and promoted to international ticket holders, had to freeze their rates at 2007 prices and give Match a 30% cut. Not surprisingly a number balked, complaining about feeling shut off by FIFA from the tourists visiting South Africa.

Nevertheless, one cannot avoid the overall sense of pride in what South Africa has accomplished by hosting the World Cup, despite any disappointment over the absent but expected (some might say, promised) financial windfall. One of the most interestingly positive voices came from a tour operator running a new, fledgling business who showed us Soweto – as much as one can see a metropolis-sized township in one afternoon. He thought that South Africans should be grateful for the money being spent on infrastructure and improvements, even if that money was only available because of the World Cup. An up-by-the-bootstraps philosopher, he rejected the naysaying that accompanied the state investment that was finally filtering into Soweto because it had only been obtained to pretty up an impoverished township for the world's gaze. "Why complain?" was his argument. "We got a new park out of it."

Despite such township realpolitik, every nation faces significant challenges and choices when hosting a World Cup, Olympic Games, or other mega-event. A 2007 report, prepared as the Beijing Olympic preparations were in full swing, claimed that in the previous two decades more than 2 million people had been displaced by Olympic projects. South Africa is certainly not immune to such social costs. The stadium in Nelspruit occupies the site of a former primary school. Kids protested but the school was wiped away for a $140 million venue that hosted only four World Cup matches and is located less than a kilometer from the impoverished community of Mataffin. While in Durban, news broke during the World Cup  that the city's police force had been aggressively rounding up street kids and trucking them out of town in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. Visitors then wouldn't have their views of the Indian Ocean beachfront, modern new hotels, and brand new Moses Mabhida Stadium obscured by the reality of life on Durban's streets.

Having been to Durban's new stadium it's hard to imagine that a venue that isn't a soccer-specific stadium and that has room for a running track and for expanded seating hasn't been built with other possibilities in mind. And this morning, in a small article below the fold, Johannesburg's main daily newspaper spilled the beans: South Africa is planning a bid for the 2020 Olympic Games. And so the 2010 World Cup wraps up the way that so many mega-events have before it, with talk of bigger and better things.