The Soccer World Goes to South Africa: Sport and the Making of Modern Africa

Soccer fans, painted in the colors of South Africa's flag, celebrate the coming of the 2010 FIFA World Cup to South Africa.

Soccer fans, painted in the colors of South Africa's flag, celebrate the coming of the 2010 FIFA World Cup to South Africa. On June 11, one of the world's premier sporting events began its month-long pageant with considerable historic significance for the host nation, especially in terms of its fraught relationship between sport, race, and social justice.

Editor's Note

Will the stadiums be ready? Will they be full? Will spectators and tourists be safe? These are the questions dominating media coverage as South Africa prepares to host the world's largest single-sport event, the 2010 soccer World Cup. The appearance in Africa for the first time of the highest profile competition in the world's most popular sport has people asking just what economic and social benefits sporting events offer a country, and whether hosting a month-long soccer tournament should be a high priority for the government in Pretoria. This month, historian Russell Field examines the larger racial and class debates that swirl around sport in South Africa, and the important role that sport played in the liberation movements and anti-apartheid efforts of the 1960s to 1990s. The significance of sport has not been lost on a new generation of leaders in the post-apartheid democracy. Today South Africa seeks to realize the developmental and diplomatic benefits of sport and assert their leadership of what former President Thabo Mbeki called the 'African Renaissance.'

For more on the recent history of Africa, read these articles on the Darfur Conflict, Piracy in Somalia, Violence and Politics in Kenya, and this 1994 Origins article on South Africa at the end of Apartheid. Readers may also be interested in these Origins articles on sports: the Politics of the Olympics and the 1994 Fifa World Cup in the U.S.

Feel free to also listen to our History Talk conversation on The Politics of International Sports

UPDATE: This article was updated on July 8 2010 (click here to read the update)

In 1990, the landmark release of Nelson Mandela from prison began the dismantling of South Africa's infamous apartheid regime, with its white minority rule and harsh racial segregation, and led to the country's first multi-racial elections four years later.

With the end of the race-based political system, the newly elected President Mandela turned to sport as a way to begin healing the country.

Dramatized in the 2009 Clint Eastwood film, Invictus, Mandela sought to use the 1995 rugby World Cup, hosted by South Africa, to unite his country behind the success of the national team. Unexpectedly, the home squad provided just the opportunity he was hoping for. South Africa's "Springboks" defeated the heavily favored New Zealand "All Blacks" in the final, in front of 65,000 spectators at Johannesburg's Ellis Park.

Today, this event is remembered as a beginning moment of reconciliation in South Africa—most stunningly symbolized when Mandela appeared at the final match wearing a green-and-gold Springboks jersey, an emblem of the very apartheid regime that had imprisoned him—and also of the re-admittance of South Africa to the international community.

To many, winning a rugby tournament might seem to have little diplomatic or social importance. But sport was one of the most visible avenues through which the international community responded to the all-white National Party government in Pretoria. South African teams had been banned from international sporting competition during the last decades of the apartheid regime.

With segregated sports and international boycotts during much of the 20th century, sport in South Africa has rarely been solely about playing games. And the questions of race, of economic development, and of social justice have never been far from any discussion of sport.

This year is no exception, as South Africa prepares to host the highest profile event of the world's most popular game. Soccer fans throughout the world will spend the northern summer glued to their television sets as the world's largest single-sport event, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup heads to South Africa.

Sport and the Anti-Apartheid Movement

Throughout South Africa's 20th century, sport served as a focal point for the apartheid regime to impose its racist order on the nation and to insist on that order internationally. As a consequence, sport also generated some of the most high-profile—and occasionally violent—anti-apartheid action around the world.

Concerns over South African racism were first raised in the early 1930s. The 1934 British Empire Games (the precursor to the today's Commonwealth Games) were awarded to Johannesburg, but had to be shifted to London to assuage the concerns of some the empire's dominions over the "colour question."

But it was the election of the National Party in 1948 and the introduction of racial segregation laws that institutionalized apartheid—which lasted officially from 1948 to 1994—that brought the issue of international cooperation with South Africa, both within and beyond sport, into stark relief.

In the mid-1950s, T.E. Dönges, minister of the interior, announced that the government would assist Africans in participating in sport, but that their participation "must accord with the policy of separate development," effectively ensuring that racially based sport was a state-mandated policy.

Practically, such a policy meant a prohibition of racially mixed sport, fewer resources for African athletes compared to their white counterparts, and little opportunity for black athletes to represent their country internationally.

The National Party's apartheid policies raised red flags throughout international sport offices and, just as importantly, gave anti-apartheid activists a new platform for protest: sport.

The major international sport bodies acted, albeit slowly. When their calls for representative athletic teams were rejected, they moved to suspend and then expel South Africa.

Olympic sports were controlled by the South African Olympic and National Games Association (SAONGA), which was all-white and upheld the policy of racial segregation. Non-white athletes and officials, led by Dennis Brutus, responded by forming the South African Sports Association (SASA) in 1958. A year later, SASA raised with the IOC the issue of racial discrimination in South African sport.

When these protests did not succeed, SASA formed the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC), with the goal of replacing SAONGA as the country's representative Olympic body. By 1966, both SASA and SANROC leadership had been forced into exile in London and Brutus had been imprisoned on Robben Island, in the cell next to Mandela.

The South African government, through its IOC member, Reginald Honey, argued that "apartheid was an internal matter which did not concern the IOC." Eventually, however, the IOC insisted upon reforms. When these conditions were not met, the IOC banned South Africa from the 1964 Tokyo Games.

A similar process took place leading up to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, as African nations banded together to oppose apartheid sport. In April 1968, the IOC withdrew its invitation to South Africa to compete in Mexico City and in 1970 formally expelled South Africa from the IOC.

Similarly, the all-white Football Association of South Africa (FASA) was suspended by FIFA in 1961. The suspension was temporarily lifted in 1963, but re-imposed a year later for the duration of the apartheid regime. South African players did not return to international soccer until 1992, the same year that the South African athletes returned to the Olympics in Barcelona.

The decisions by FIFA and the IOC, however long in coming, had effectively banned South Africa from international sport because of its apartheid politics. But there were sports beyond their reach, namely rugby and cricket, the most popular sports among the country's white minority.

It is to these sports that anti-apartheid activists both within South Africa and elsewhere next turned their attention. Protests focused not only on the white South African teams, but also on those nations willing to host South Africa for rugby and cricket matches: Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

These protests, from the late-1960s into the early-1980, often turned violent. But they galvanized public opinion and succeeded in having a 1973 rugby tour by the Springboks canceled by New Zealand authorities.

Even under the Olympic and Commonwealth banners, protestors focused on those nations continuing to compete against South Africa. Twenty-six African nations, plus Guyana and Iraq, boycotted the 1976 Montreal Olympics over New Zealand's attendance, while the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton were similarly threatened. [Click here to read more on Olympic Protest Movements]

Soccer and Race in South Africa

Given the prominence of sport to the liberation struggle, it should come as no surprise that the leaders of post-apartheid South Africa returned to sport—specifically by hosting global sporting mega-events—to promote both internationally and domestically a vision of the modern, multi-racial "Rainbow Nation."

This effort started with Mandela and the 1995 rugby World Cup, but has also included the 2003 cricket World Cup, the return of the 2007 rugby World Cup, and an offer at the last moment to host the 2009 season of Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket when security concerns forced the event out of south Asia. (Their bids for the 2004 Olympics (in Cape Town) and the 2006 FIFA World Cup were turned down.)

Yet, for all this focus on big sporting events in general, the fact that this summer's World Cup is a soccer tournament is far from inconsequential.

All sports in South Africa have been racialized—and "the racial divide," notes journalist Alec Russell, "often appears more entrenched now than in 1995." White players occupied 14 of the 15 places on the 1995 rugby team Mandela used to promote racial bridge-building. Yet when South Africa hosted and again won the rugby World Cup 12 years later the makeup of the team had only shifted to 13 out of 15 of the players being white.

Yet, if rugby has been white South Africa's game, soccer is black South Africa's game. As journalist Christopher Merrett notes, from the early-20th century, soccer "undemanding of space and economical of time, became symbolic of African urban life."

This racial distinction is made clear in the film, More Than Just a Game, and the book of the same title. This powerful South African docudrama tells the story of political prisoners who were jailed under the apartheid regime in the 1960s on the infamous Robben Island prison.

The prisoners created and ran their own soccer league on the island as a way to be both physically and politically active, resisting incarceration through their passion for the "beautiful game." Current South African President Jacob Zuma was a referee in the league, the Makana Football Association, which was granted honorary membership in FIFA in 2009.

Economic Development, Infrastructure, and the Promises of the World Cup

If sport in South Africa has been highly racialized, the World Cup also highlights how global sport connects with economic development and social justice.

On a day in early May 2010, with the opening of the World Cup barely a month away, President Zuma was in Durban to open a tourism trade show.

Zuma's five decades in public life have been marked by hardship and oppression. A longtime member of the African National Congress (ANC), he survived a 10-year sentence at Robben Island to see the end of apartheid and rise to lead—although not without considerable political and personal controversy—the South African republic.

This day, the sufferings of apartheid seemed a faint memory. Of greatest concern for those who crowded in to see the President was the World Cup's impact on the domestic tourist industry and the readiness of the nation to host the event.

"South Africa," the President confidently assured the delegates, "is ready for the World Cup."

Behind Zuma's predictably confident statements about tourism, however, other debates are raging about racial inequality, poverty, and this greatest of all soccer pageants.

In a country facing serious issues of economic hardship and crime, many around the world are questioning the use of South Africa's precious resources to host a month-long soccer tournament. Will it bring, they wonder, promised economic opportunity and a new international face for South Africa across the globe? What does South Africa hope to gain from investing in a soccer tournament?

In South Africa, where nearly eighty percent of the country's more than 49 million people are African, soccer is, to be sure, a vastly popular game.

But generalizations are challenging in such a diverse country. There are eleven national languages, nine of which are African, and English (13.3%) and Afrikaans (8.2%) are the primary languages of less than one-quarter of the population. Even the 9.1% of the population that is classified as "white" is marked by cultural and class differences between Anglo- and Boer-descendants.

Nearly half of the country lives in poverty, surviving on less than 322 Rand per month (today less than $43 USD). Poverty is not surprisingly accompanied by one of the world's higher incidences of violent crime and, as in virtually all of sub-Saharan Africa, the challenge of HIV/AIDS. Over 5.7 million South Africans are infected with HIV, a disease most prevalent in women 25-29 and men 30-34.

Analysts of "mega-events" argue that hosts pursue these events in an effort to realize some generally acknowledged, but rarely demonstrated, benefits: economic growth and social opportunity being chief among them.

Arguments of economic growth usually carry the day when bidding decisions are made. This is of little surprise, as bidding committees are often comprised of the constituencies most likely to benefit from high-profile events occurring in their jurisdiction: politicians, at all levels of government, and civic and business leaders.

As a result, development projections dominate the public discussions of such events. For the Olympic Games or World Cup, promoters tout the creation of new public facilities and suggest a related increase in sport participation—although there is little empirical evidence to support such claims.

Infrastructure development, both directly related to events as well as incidental growth—think of the train line to Athens' airport that was built in anticipation of the 2004 Olympics—is also highlighted as a legacy of such events. This infrastructure supports the tourists that organizing committees assert will attend events and continue to visit host communities.

It is in the hopes of realizing such benefits that South Africa is going to such great lengths to welcome the "world"—either in person or through television, with an anticipated cumulative audience of 26.9 billion.

The South African government is investing 28 billion Rand ($3.7 billion USD) in the World Cup. Two "line items" comprise the bulk of the expenditures. Nearly 10 billion Rand will be spent on what organizers hope is a physical legacy of landmark facilities. FIFA 2010 will be played at ten venues located in nine cities throughout South Africa. Five brand-new soccer stadia will be built in Cape Town, Durban, Nelspruit, Polokwane, and Port Elizabeth—some in the poorest regions of South Africa—while five others will be upgraded.

Transportation infrastructure throughout the nation will also receive an investment of 13.6 billion Rand ($1.8 billion USD) thanks to the World Cup. This money will be spent modernizing existing systems, creating new rail and bus rapid transit lines, and improving roadways. In early May, a new terminal was opened in Johannesburg and travelers to and from Durban were using a brand-new airport.

These facilities have been built to welcome the nearly 500,000 tourists projected to visit South Africa during the World Cup who, it is hoped, will spend 8.5 billion Rand ($1.12 billion USD).

Overall, projections call for FIFA 2010 to contribute 55.7 billion Rand ($7.35 billion USD) to the South African economy, add 19.3 billion Rand ($2.5 billion USD) of tax revenue to the government's coffers, and create 415,400 jobs, including the 20,000 construction jobs that have already been filled.

There are doubts, of course, about whether a month-long sporting event can deliver the hoped-for economic gains, to say nothing of realizing any meaningful social change.

The notion that a major sporting event can both raise the profile of and generate profits for the host has traditionally been linked with the 1984 Los Angles Summer Olympics, the first to generate a substantial profit.

Analysts contend that such promises are rarely realized and do not generate the promised economic boon. As political scientist David Black notes, such estimates have been criticized for "greatly overstating prospective 'windfalls'", which they compound by a "tendency to understate costs."

Economic impact analyses are often guilty of overlooking the ways in which mega-events siphon off monies in the local economy that would normally be spent elsewhere while ignoring the "crowding-out effect" when projecting the number of tourists (and their wallets) an event will attract.

These events, while attracting spectators, also preclude other visitors from travelling to the region. It was estimated that the 2002 World Cup attracted 460,000 visitors to co-host South Korea, the identical number who visited the country in the same period during the preceding year.

In addition, specialized sporting facilities are not widely used after mega-events conclude, have little demonstrated connection with increased sporting participation among the general population, and lead to considerable public debt. The dots are being connected in 2010 between the shaky financial legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics and the current economic meltdown in Greece.

This is perhaps an extreme case, but in 1994, World Cup organizers in the United States predicted that the event would generate a $4 billion boost to the national economy. Research, by economists Robert Baade and Victor Matheson, however noted that "the host cities experienced economic growth that was $4 billion less than would normally have been expected for these metropolitan areas."

Yet, research about the economic impact of large sporting events has focused almost exclusively on events in the developed West (especially Europe and North America). This is a function of the sample size. Mexico has hosted both the Olympics and the World Cup. South America has hosted numerous World Cups, while Japan and South Korea jointly hosted the 2002 World Cup and have both been host to the Summer Olympic Games.

But major sporting events in the global south have been limited to "second-order" events such as the Commonwealth Games (Kingston, Jamaica, 1966; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1998), and rugby and cricket World Cups.

With such little history, it is unclear whether the risks of unrealized benefits are greater or lesser in the developing world. In 2010, do the potential benefits of public investment in the World Cup outweigh the risks of further entrenching gaps in South African society? If South Africa's hoped-for economic and infrastructure rewards go unrealized, will the investment have been worth it?

Winning the World Cup can hardly be the incentive for hosting. Only seven nations have ever won and South Africa's team (the Bafana Bafana) is ranked a lowly 90th in the world. But there are other markers of success, especially in terms of a nation's international reputation.

Germany did not win as 2006 host, but the organizational skills displayed and the positive atmosphere that surrounded much of the tournament did much to improve Germany's image worldwide. And the 2006 success is being leveraged in the German Olympic Committee's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Munich.

Increasingly sporting events are stepping stones to ever bigger sporting events. Rio successfully hosted the 2007 Pan-American Games and now is awaiting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Delhi organizers have made clear that a successful 2010 Commonwealth Games is a prelude to an Olympic bid. Kenyan officials have also suggested that they might bid for the 2028 Summer Olympics to celebrate meeting national economic development targets.

An Olympic bid may even be in South Africa's future as sport mega-events become a symbol of a nation's arrival on the world stage.

With Potential Reward Comes Risk

In the face of such aspirations, critics have questioned whether a global sporting event organized on a northern model can be delivered in the global south. On the ground, organizers face substantial challenges. Chief among these is ensuring the safety and security of World Cup fans. Soccer hooligans have to be policed everywhere, but a 2002 U.N. survey on crime ranked South Africa first among the countries studied for murders and gun violence, second for assaults, and third for robberies.

Concerns were heightened by the violence that occurred in January 2010 at the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. Separatist rebels opened fire on a bus carrying the Togolese team and officials, killing three and injuring 10 others. Angola is not, of course, South Africa, but the attack certainly raised concerns.

More directly relevant to the Cup, it was revealed in April 2010 that the June 12th U.S.-England match in Rustenburg had been the subject of a credible terrorist threat. As a result, the FIFA 2010 security strategy will feature 40,000 uniformed personnel and cost 1.3 billion Rand (approximately $170 million USD).

Such efforts are not unique to South Africa. At the recent field hockey World Cup in India spectators at the stadium in Delhi faced as many as seven separate security checks before they were finally granted admittance.

Along with concerns over safety, Cup analysts are worried that too few people will come to watch the games live. A day before the terrorist threat to the U.S.-England match was made public, and two months before the opening kickoff, organizers announced that 500,000 tickets for FIFA 2010 remained unsold, roughly one-sixth of the three million available tickets.

This announcement was accompanied by the usual confident assertions that the event would be a well-attended success. Danny Jordaan, the organizing committee CEO, noted that it would be "tragic" if tickets remained unsold and exhorted his countrymen to "go buy now."

But for many South Africans that is easier said than done. For non-Africans, tickets range in price from $200-450 USD for preliminary round matches and face values of $400-900 USD for the final on July 11th. For residents of a country where in 2008 UNESCO estimated the gross per capita income to be $5820 USD, FIFA created a category of tickets specifically for South Africans costing approximately $20 USD for early-stage matches and rising to $140 USD for the final.

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.

Audio Version of Article
Suggested Reading

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Black, David. "The Symbolic Politics of Sport Mega-Events: 2010 in Comparative Perspective." Politikon 34, no. 3 (2007): 261-276.

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Booth, Douglas. The Race Game: Sport and Politics in South Africa. London: Frank Cass, 1998.

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Cornelissen, Scarlett. "Scripting the Nation: Sport, Mega-Events, Foreign Policy and State-Building in Post-apartheid South Africa." Sport in Society 11, no. 4 (2008): 481-493.

Giardina, Michael. "One day, one goal? PUMA, corporate philanthropy and the cultural politics of brand 'Africa'." Sport in Society 13, no. 1 (2010): 130-142.

Kuper, Simon and Stefan Szymanski. Soccernomics. New York: Nation Books, 2009.

MacLean, Malcolm. "Anti-apartheid Boycotts and the Affective Economies of Struggle: The Case of Aotearoa New Zealand." Sport in Society 13, no. 1 (2010): 72-91.

Matheson, Victor and Robert Baade. "Mega-sporting Events in Developing Countries: Playing the Way to Prosperity?" Unpublished paper, 2003. 

Ndlovu, Sifiso Mxolisi. "Sports as Cultural Diplomacy: The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa's Foreign Policy." Soccer & Society 11, nos. 1-2 (2010): 144-153.

Ramsamy, Sam. Apartheid, the Real Hurdle: Sports in South Africa and the International Boycott. London: International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, 1982.

Runciman, David. "They Can Play, But They Can Never Win." New Statesman, 29 May 2006: 14-17.

Russell, Alec. "Time for a New Game?" New Statesman, 29 October 2007: 16.