Monday, July 12, 2010

World Cup 2010: The Legacy

Like a non-stop blast from a nation-sized vuvuzela, South Africa has trumpeted its pride and joy at hosting the world's greatest sporting tournament for the past month.

The excitement of having the World Cup played out on African soil for the first time will never be forgotten, not by South Africa's 50 million citizens, nor Africa's 850 million or the billions in the worldwide television audience.

What a show it was, what a celebration of our shared humanity, what an emotional roller coaster it has been.

From the thrill of the Siphiwe Tshabalala opening goal that sent South African hearts soaring to the crushing cynicism of Luis Suarez's goalline handball cheat that grounded the hopes of Ghana's Black Stars, we have seen it all. The good, the sad and the ugly.

South Africans all found common purpose in wearing yellow and green in solidarity with Bafana Bafana and together dared to dream the impossible that our team, our country, could win against the best in the world.

We revelled in the success of the complex preparations, to the point where our self-congratulation suggested we had doubted our ability and capacity as much as the detractors abroad who willed us to fail.

Perhaps the signs of new confidence and invigorated national spirit could be seen on the eve of the games in an outpouring of patriotism, not seen since 1994.

South Africans took ownership of the flag and waved it, wore it and wrapped themselves, their cars and their homes and offices in it. We felt it. It was here.

But today it is over.

South Africans can sit back and count the costs and the benefits of hosting the event. But it will be a while before the facts emerge from the hype.

The positives

In economic terms, analysts are estimating the event added a half percentage point to gross domestic product (GDP) this year, contributing to the expected 3 percent growth in GDP. Much of the benefit came through in previous years as the country prepared for the event. According to a March research note by Citi, the impact of building new stadiums and upgrading existing ones would have been worth as much as 1 percent to 1.5 percent of GDP - including the spillover effect on other sectors - spread over several years.

South African business confidence rose to the highest level in nine months in June as the World Cup boosted sentiment in Africa's biggest economy, according to the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The business confidence index rose to 84.8, the highest since September 2009, from 82 in May.

"The World Cup has obviously had a positive effect on sentiment both domestically and internationally," said Richard Downing, an economist at the chamber. "The main benefit is that the positive spirit and momentum created by the tournament can be carried forward to realise long-term economic improvement."

A recent update by Grant Thornton Strategic Solutions puts the World Cup's total GDP contribution at R93 billion, with 373 000 foreigners visiting South Africa. Grant Thornton put foreign and domestic tourism and organising spend at R16.1bn, infrastructure and stadium spend at R39.2bn, making a total direct spend of R55.3bn.

The auditing firm has monitored the spending on the event since 2003 when it estimated the stadiums and other infrastructure would cost R2.3bn and 251 000 foreigners would visit.

Tony Twine, the senior economist at Econometrix, noted that there were enduring legacies - including the vastly improved road network and the country's wall-to-wall exposure to billions of television viewers around the world. These benefits will continue to feed into the economy in the months and years ahead.

Iraj Abedian, the chief economist of Pan African Investment and Research, urged the country to harness the "sense of purpose and focus" to deal with pressing issues, such as the needs of municipalities and the health and education sectors.

But no quick fixes

The World Cup was never going to solve South Africa's problems. We must look again at the reality in which many workers who directly took part in hosting the World Cup have no jobs. Many others involved in the preparation of stadiums and other projects have been out of work for months.

We are still the two countries that former president Thabo Mbeki described.

While South Africa may have been united in spirit by the World Cup, the harsh economic reality, where tickets for yesterday's spectacular finale were reportedly changing hands for $10 000 (R75 000), the equivalent of a year's salary for minimum-waged Eskom workers, meant that the festivities were mostly enjoyed by the moneyed classes as the poor majority looked on.

Gestures to include tickets for people from poor communities were certainly part of the R132 million, and counting, spent on tickets by government departments, state-owned enterprises, utilities and agencies, and some of this will have been legitimate marketing.

But most of it will have been public money being used on the "personal indulgences of public officials", to quote the DA.

Fifa will leave South Africa with a reported $3.5bn, tax free.

On balance

While many have railed against Fifa's effective month-long takeover, there is also much for which to thank the world soccer governing body.

The games, of course. But also the peace we have enjoyed. That is not only due to the apparent absence of crime, which could be explained either by the long overdue visible presence of police on the streets or a lack of reporting by football-crazed media or by the police themselves. Special courts for World Cup related crimes heard 170 cases and showed that justice administered quickly and effectively was a deterrent.

The New York Times noted South Africa's criminals had put in a more indifferent showing than the French team.

One of the greatest tests that South Africa passed with flying colours during the World Cup was keeping the lights on.


Brian Sandberg, a Durbanite who blogs for a Facebook group with an international following, wrote on Friday about a British couple who were "sceptical and cautious" as they came to South Africa for the first time to see their seventh World Cup. But waiting to board their flight home last week in a final tweet on Twitter, they said to their followers: "Goodbye SA. We have had the best World Cup ever. Don't care who wins, as SA has already taken the prize."

With contributions by Roy Cokayne, Audrey D'Angelo, Ethel Hazelhurst, Slindile Khanyile, Donwald Pressly and Ingi Salgado.