South African planners have estimated that the World Cup will contribute approximately $5.5-billion (U.S.) to the economy and create 415,000 jobs, but these figures – like the supposedly positive economic impact of the Vancouver Olympics – are ephemeral and unmeasurable. For the 50 per cent of South Africans living below the poverty line the games will not lead to better housing, healthcare or employment. Government and private sector rhetoric of ‘global competitiveness’ has also had to face the very real image of a South Africa still scarred by deep racial and economic divisions. The World Cup is the playing field for many of the debates dominating South African currently: the nationalization of mines and resource industries; land redistribution and privatization of energy and telephone services. This debate also reflects the bad blood and deep divisions between the ANC and its trade union and communist allies. The international football body FIFA, and its corporate sponsors, want South Africans to forget this debate is happening. Their belief that global games are beneficial to the world is not only highly misleading, but it presents neo-liberalism as the only solution to national economic development. It asks the leading question: How would South Africans get better roads and sporting facilities if not for the World Cup? Their discourse is hard to counter. Behind it are the powers of a world built upon power relations – adding the sexiness of sport gives great symbolic force to these unequal relations.

Like Coca-Cola and Adidas – both official sponsors of the World Cup – South Africa is a brand. To foreign investors and business elite, a stable rand and inflation rate are as desirable as a positive brand image before the world. Like Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, the complexities of ongoing struggles in South Africa can be reduced to inoffensive pabulum and fed to global audiences. The dominance of the global market in South Africa is now reified by liberal Hollywood spectacle. Globalization and brand recognition have led many nations to market their identities as international brands. In fact, many developing nations have little choice but to resort to these international spectacles to lure the brands and investment encouraged by the IMF and World Bank. As Essop Pahad, former minister in the Presidency told the 2010 National Communication Partnership Conference: “This event is about much more than sports – it is about Africa and Africa’s ability to host the world.”

For one month an estimated 400,000 fans will descend on cities throughout South Africa, and millions more will tune in to watch the largest sporting spectacle hosted, for the first time, by an African nation. Beer guzzling soccer fans at World Cup stadiums will have no choice but to down American Budweiser and Coca-Cola in terms with strict FIFA sponsorship rules. Fans will fill seats at stadiums costing over $1.8-billion (U.S.) and travel on railways and roads specially upgraded for them. From this vantage point they will see the World Cup’s real winners: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Sony, Hyundai, Visa, Budweiser, Castrol Oil, Continental Tire, McDonalds, YingLi Solar and Indian IT supergiant Mahindra Satyam. In addition, there are five national sponsors, which include South Africa’s largest bank FNB, British Petroleum and the semi-privatized telecommunications company Telkom.

This spending in stadium construction and infrastructure renewal comes as the nation is experiencing its first recession in seventeen years with GDP growth for 2009 now in the red at -0.3 percent. High levels of private investment are supposed to dampen the negative impact of global recession, but as some analysts have pointed out, the games need to do more than just ensure a short-lived tourism boom. If public funds can be found to pad tourist seats, then funds can, and must, be found to deal with the impact of low economic growth on the most disadvantaged sectors of the population. Township shack dwellers, for example, whose numbers have grown by 50 per cent in the first ten year of post-apartheid democracy, have little to gain from billion dollar stadiums.

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