Is the honeymoon over?

It all got off to such a good start. The World Cup kicked off successfully and our nation exploded onto the world stage, demonstrating a palpable sense of euphoria that was instantly contagious. Soon, just about everyone on the planet joined in to celebrate the first ‘African’ World Cup and it looked like it would be plain sailing. But now we’re a week in and the grumbling has started.

First, it was the underwhelming opening ceremony (it was OK, but looked a bit disorganised and I’m not sure if a dung beetle rolling a soccer ball is the most appropriate symbol for the tournament). Then, the unholy drone of the vuvuzelas came under fire (they do sound like a herd of elephants stampeding through a field of geese). Then it was the supposedly erratic flight of the new Jabulani ball (designed by FIFA – nothing to do with SA). Then it was the security guard strike (and who can blame them for demanding more than R190 for a 12 hour shift, as was apparently specified by the LOC).

Next, the empty seat debacle has raised some eyebrows – especially from angry soccer fans who have been trying desperately to buy tickets through the FIFA website with no success. And a couple of hotel rooms have been burgled (why do the criminals always pick on journalists?). And it’s been really cold. And the games have been a bit monotonous, with not enough goals. And the public transport is lacking. And some restaurants have jacked up their prices. And so on.

Some of these complaints are certainly valid (especially the gripes about public transport, crime and price gouging) but it irks me when I hear a few neo-colonial curmudgeons in the international media pointing out the flaws of having the World Cup in such a ‘remote’ country. All in all, I think we’re doing a hell of a job.

The games are being played on time and without interruption. The broadcasts are being beamed across the world with no problems. Sandton, Rosebank and Melrose Arch are all filled to capacity with a menagerie of foreigners, happily mingling with the local wildlife. So, let’s give credit where it’s due and acknowledge that, yes, South Africa is indeed capable of hosting the world’s biggest sporting event.

Now, as I’ve said previously, I’m not really a soccer fan. To me, the average game of football is 88 minutes of boredom punctuated with 2 minutes of extreme excitement. But let’s be clear about this: the significance of the World Cup goes far beyond football.

The real benefits for our country will only start to materialise when all the foreign visitors get home and tell their friends about their amazing trip to SA. That’s when attitudes to our country (and Joburg in particular) will start to change both in terms of tourism and commerce. As one economist has said, this World Cup could be a turning point for SA. Let’s hope he’s right because we still have a mountain of challenges to overcome and we are going to need all the help we can get once the glow of the tournament is over. IMHO.

[Originally posted 18/06/2010]

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