In an all-too-brief interview last week, Faith Mangope, the smart host of the current affairs show on Y FM, asked if her listeners – the vibrant young, black, rising middle class – were to believe that Fifa is just about exploiting a host country and leaving it worse off. The answer, unfortunately, was that this is a pretty accurate description.
I've been banging this drum all year. In my very first column in January, I called for a boycott of Fifa and its sponsors. At the time, it seemed contrarian, petty, and even unpatriotic. But as we drew nearer to the big day, more and more headlines popped up exposing some of the iniquities of Fifa. Protest websites appeared, graciously citing my Daily Maverick columns in their own calls to boycott Fifa, or worse.
While this rise in anti-Fifa sentiment is gratifying, it is important to reiterate a number of important qualifications.
First and foremost, there's no need for pessimism about South Africa's ability to host the event. We've done almost everything right so far, and there is no reason why we won't run a terrific event. When we're up against it, South Africans can and do work miracles. We've done it before, and we'll do it again this time.
Besides, Fifa can hardly complain about Africa's shortcomings when it cannot even get tickets sold, even on the simple basis that random people are randomly selected to watch random matches from random seats at random times in random host cities. It is a damning indictment of Fifa's competence that the worthies in their ivory tower did not realise it wouldn't even occur to most African football fans to buy tickets online. Its claims to care about a continent about which it clearly doesn't know the first thing is the height of conceit.
There probably will be a few nasty incidents, but they will not spoil the event. True, the British tabloids are salivating at the prospect of lurid tales of barbarism and violence. The Daily Mirror even arranged to print in South Africa, just for this purpose. To them, I'll say this: Sorry, chaps, but the heathen natives will disappoint you. Best get some filler copy ready about how awful the vuvuzela sounds.
While boycotting Fifa, we should still enjoy the football. Fifa might claim tyrannical rights, but football is the people's sport and we have a right to enjoy watching our national sides play, no matter how rapacious or corrupt the governing body is.
Support our team, and here's hoping their recent run of results extends well into the group stages. It would be sweet justice to see the French handball team ejected from the tournament at the hands of our boys. May the luck of the Irish be with you, Bafana Bafana.
Do welcome the visitors to our wonderful country. We have much to show off, from the festive taverns in the townships to the splendours of nature. Make them jealous. Make them want to come back.
We'll have much to be proud of when the World Cup is over. Of that I have no doubt.
However, none of this changes the fact that Fifa, its exclusive marketing partner, Match, and the cartel of official sponsors, have invaded this country like rapacious conquistadors. They strong-armed our government – who surely were hoping for more than just a little self-aggrandisement – into writing special laws that have "Fifa" in their title. That is not Fair Play®, Fifa. In this country, we have a constitution that is the envy of the free world. It says everyone ought to be equal before the law.
Fifa and Match shamelessly bullied our tourism industry. South African tour operators have been elbowed aside in favour of foreign giants by a $30,000 licence fee Match charges for each and every country to which they'd want to sell packages. South African accommodation venues have been left in the lurch and out of pocket. Some guest houses were smart enough not to sign the book-length contract Match dumped on their desks. Others, even when fully booked, are bitter about their treatment, complaining about last-minute cancellations without compensation and high-handed instructions to keep rooms reserved at no charge. They are incensed at the eye-watering commission Match demands, which makes South Africans look like profiteering opportunists.
When even the few who do stand to make a profit are angry at Fifa, you know something's up. Unfortunately, they are in the minority.
Most South Africans – the people who were supposed to benefit from this grand Roman circus – are being treated like Grant Abrahamse. He registered a design for a keyring in 2004, featuring a football, a vuvuzela and the date "2010". When Fifa belatedly discovered this, its jackboots demanded a R250,000 licence free, plus royalties on the profits. How many keyrings did the Fifa protection racket think he'd sell? So much for feeding his family.
Compared to the 3,600 cases filed in Germany in 2006, Fifa has already filed 50,000 "ambush marketing" actions against ordinary South Africans who were just hoping for a few crumbs from the table. This is a "great moment for Africa"? It's no such thing. It was designed, from the ground up, to be a great moment for Fifa and nobody else.
Meanwhile, we'll have R100 billion or so in infrastructure debt to pay off. Only some of it makes any sense in terms of development goals. The rest was at white elephants; they will stand as expensive monuments to the political folly of having signed over our government to the exploitation of Fifa. No amount of window-dressing by Fifa's social responsibility department will turn these boondoggles into real development aid.
To help pay for the R100 billion, foreign visitors were expected to contribute some R20 billion to GDP. This was a poor return on investment even before the expectation of visitor numbers dropped from half a million to a mere 200,000. The only satisfaction we can draw from the poor turnout from overseas is that it will also put a dent in the loot-filled coffers Fifa hopes to lug back to Sepp Blatter's palace in Zurich.
Allegations of graft swirl around Fifa and the Blatter royal family like green bottle flies around a steaming pile of manure. Andrew Jennings, a reporter for the BBC's Panorama programme, recently interviewed for the Daily Maverick by Kevin Bloom, has made it his mission to expose the bribery and vote-rigging. Not surprisingly, he does not get invited to Fifa press junkets. The Local Organising Committee in South Africa, when questioned by the Mail & Guardian, claimed private privilege for the public rights that the South African Football Association ceded to it. After how Fifa treated South Africa, why would it surprise anyone to find it is rotten to the core?
It is too late to do much about the pillage to which we're about to be subjected. But it is not too late to speak up. It's no good to grin and bear it, just to put a positive spin on the World Cup. While the world is watching, it should hear exactly how Fifa steamrollers foreign governments and pillages developing countries. Nobody will listen when they're all back home, the television cameras have been switched off, and we're left counting our losses.
One can hope that such wholesale exploitation won't happen to, say, Brazil. Maybe its government can do more to guard its citizens' rights against being usurped by foreign invaders. Either way, Fifa ought to be cut down to size. It is not a sovereign state. It should do business on a level playing field, honestly and fairly, as it demands of the sport over which it claims proprietorship.
Saying that the World Cup will be great for nation-building and international marketing is like saying that colonialism was great for establishing civil service bureaucracies and commerce. It is true, but it is also very much beside the point.
Therefore, do enjoy the World Cup. But when you buy a flag, or a shirt, or a meal, or a vuvuzela, do as I did: check that it is not "approved by Fifa". The World Cup trademark on a product just means that the gangsters took their cut.
Don't fund the extortion racket. Make sure your money goes to support honest, hard-working people. They deserve your custom. Fifa and its sponsors most certainly do not.
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey