Tuesday, June 8, 2010

World Cup Soccer 2010: Shame on the Beautiful Game

Soccer fever rises. A billboard on the East Bay side of the California's Oakland/San Francisco Bay Bridge displays an animated advertisement with the FIFA logo announcing “RSA vs. Mexico, Friday 6:30am.” The growing excitement makes even someone who elects to live sans a television cast around  for a  place to watch the sport referred to as the “beautiful game.” 

At ground zero, South Africa's liberal Mail and Guardian quotes President Jacob Zuma: the World Cup is “the single greatest opportunity we have ever had to showcase our diversity and potential to the world. We must rise and tell the story of a continent which is alive with possibilities.”

Indeed, Zuma's post-World Cup future promises magical transformations: racial reconciliation; the end of post-apartheid troubles, disasters and tragedies; a plethora of international investors; and horizons chock-a-block with spend-happy tourists who, drawn to South Africa's charm and beauty, will return again and again. This, despite glowing estimates (450,000  international and 100,000 African  soccer fans) falling woefully short and despite the growing disincentives of future carbon taxes on air and other travel, the country's failing infrastructure and social services,  and its hard-to-beat reputation as the “rape capital” of the world.

The word on Main Street has it a veritable honor to any country granted the opportunity to host FIFA's World Cup. But, back in the 'hood where the host country's majority live, the downside is very real to the people whose government contracted with FIFA to spend lavishly for FIFA. The effects persist long after the last soccer fan departs a brand new stadium built for a handful of games.
Show no poverty!
In Cape Town, FIFA officials took one look at the location of the existing – functional – Athlone stadium and refused to play soccer in it, explaining that “A billion television viewers don’t want to see shacks and poverty on this scale.”

Here's an idea. Instead of infantalizing a billion viewers at the cost of the new stadium in Green Point spend the money on the improving civil infrastructure. Yes, Table Mountain is beautiful behind the new stadium that is also the most expensive ever built anywhere – so far! But, imagine what that budget of R4.5 billion/ US $580 million – with cost overruns and escalations in 2006 rising from R1.8 billion/US $225 million to R3.1 billion – could do if it went toward creating durable jobs that built sustainable neighborhoods with schools, clinics, and parks for the next generation to learn soccer?

Then a billion finicky television viewers could see their largess manifested in Athlone and feel the adult joy of constructive participation in real South Africa.

More importantly, a few thousand of the currently 4.18 million unemployed South Africans would have jobs, pay taxes, consume local goods, and offer security to their families. 

Instead, “Statistics South Africa” reports that numbers of unemployed rose from last year's 3.87 million. In their updated article, “South Africa’s Unemployment Rate Increases to 23.5%”, Nasreen Seria and Mike Cohen report that the jobless rate rose to 23.5 percent from 21.9 percent in three months. South Africa’s unemployment is the highest of 62 countries Bloomberg tracks.

An overblown corporatized event?
In a recent interview, Professor Patrick Bond of the University of Kwa Zulu Natal's School of Development Studies, also director of the Center for Civil Society there, said, “The World Cup is an example of an overblown corporatized event of corporate athletics that involves nationalism and police hysteria about potential threat.”

He highlights facts-on-the-ground for ordinary South Africans. “We had no idea, back in 2004 when FIFA granted South Africa the Cup, that this would entail actually surrendering any democratic control of our cities where the big stadia are [located]...[South Africa's] police – essentially given to FIFA for free  – now patrol 10 kilometers around a stadium to discourage protest.”

Police warned the public that any kind of protest is disallowed for the duration of the Cup. This means coordinated protests by organized activists...and spontaneous bursts of frustration by residents with the initiative to leave their 'hood day after depressing day to fish for a few coins in the tsunami of unemployment.

So much for laissez-faire capitalism and the self-regulating marketplace!

Can  South Africa’s multi-billion investment pay off?
South Africa's current account deficit has soared. According to The Economist in February 2009, imports for construction and other goods plus profit outflows put South Africa at the top of the risk list amongst emerging markets.

In the 26 May 2010 article in Engineering News, “World Cup return on investment not guaranteed”, ACE Insurance senior underwriter Trevor Kerst states that South Africa spent about R33 billion/ US $4.1 billion on preparations for the sporting event.
“… the return on that investment is by no means assured; add to that the reality that FIFA pays no taxes and institutes exclusion zones around the stadiums where matches take place, and tax income is curtailed. Within these exclusion zones, only FIFA and its partners may sell any goods; nothing from these sales accrues to the government.”
Such massive debt, Kerst warns, would lead to a marked slowdown in public sector spending, especially on large capital projects, and that the insurance industry might face lean times ahead.

While South Africa incurs this staggering debt, a  huge import bill, and a dramatic rise in foreign debt  FIFA's profit is estimated at R24 billion/ US $3 billion; television rights alone run to approximately US $2.8 billion.

Even other large corporations are issuing warnings. MasterCard stated recently: “Any company should have grave concerns about doing business with FIFA:  lying, deception, and bad faith are standard operating procedure.”

Where there's a will, there's a way
A wonderful thing about human beings is their generous creativity in the face of injustice. For, of course, there will be protests. Indeed, a small cadre of extraordinary talents has already begun protesting. Hip hop musicians Creamy Ewok Baggend are sponsored by the Khulumani Support group, currently taking on five major corporations who, they charge, are complicit in supporting the South African Government during apartheid and are also investors in FIFA World Cup.

Where numbers and statistics may fail with some audiences, Ewok's contribution, “Shame on the Game” may go viral and their lyrics tell the world a compelling story:
It's a beautiful game
where we stand on the side
as they play with the pieces and
we pay with our pride.
It's a beautiful game.
How they loan us to own us
they've shown us a beautiful game.
I'm not talking to the people in the stands on the side
the people who need a little hope in their lives
I'm not talking to the kids who want to see the stars
want to see a future without death or jail bars.
I'm not talking to the coach.
I'm not talking to the team.
I'm talking to the money men behind the screen.
I'm trying to stop another dummy move getting past

We're playing with our balls while they're playing with our lives.
They come disguised like they're playing for our side
but the minute that we're finished
they're the first to vy!
The picture is bigger than the one getting played.
They sold back then
and they're still getting paid!

To date, the financial gain is always on FIFA's side. How that small group of private investors must smile as their bank balance fattens: the beautiful game harnessed as the miracle investment. They have outlawed cries of “foul” and, as they go to the bank, they must yell with the same joy Mexican soccer announcers yell, “gooooooooal!
(Share the link to this music and help it go viral.)

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