Sport, Politics

Analysis: The many reasons to be grumpy about the 2010 Soccer World Cup

By Branko Brkic 8 December 2009

We all know the reasons to love it. Here are a bunch of reasons to hate it.

The biggest single reason to hate next year’s Fifa Soccer World Cup is that for reasons at best dubious, the government has decided to close schools for almost five weeks during the tournament. The fact that children’s education should be sacrificed for a sports tournament is extraordinary, and typical of the government’s lackadaisical attitude toward education. No national debate appears to have been held over this extraordinary decision to play free and loose with something so precious.

The justification for the decision, which was apparently legislated to zero fanfare last week, is rather obscure: reduce traffic on the roads. Increase opportunities for kids to watch the games.

Last year, in justifying the change, chief director responsible for national and provincial coordination Sihle Mlambo said the department had drawn up the proposal after receiving written requests from the national transport department and hospitality stakeholders to extend school holidays over the period of the World Cup.

“You can imagine if schools are open during that period. In the written requests, the department was asked to consider things like infrastructure, absenteeism and transportation issues.”

Well, yes, actually. It is possible to imagine schools being open during the World Cup. Mlambo seemed to be implying that because kids (or could it be teachers?) are likely to play truant during the cup, better just close the schools.  It constitutes a kind of backhanded admission that discipline at schools in SA is non-existent.

The historical precedent for doing so is not clear, but Germany certainly did not close schools for the tournament four years ago, and probably would not have dreamt of doing so anyway.

As a kind of sop to parents who might stupidly think their children’s education was important, the government is ready with its arguments, and the first component of those arguments is that the number of schools days are not in fact being reduced.

All that is happening is that school days are being taken away from the middle of the year and added to the end of the year.

But this means the school year will end only a few days before Christmas next year. That means tertiary institutions are going to have less time to process results and the university year in 2011 may have to begin without matric results out yet.
Government obviously wants to use the 2010 World Cup as an attempt to boost the national spirit. Yet arguably, its strategy is as trivial as the handouts and petty amusements that politicians have used since the beginning of time. “Panem et circenses”, bread and circuses, used to be the strategy in ancient Rome, and it remains the strategy in SA today.

Apparently at a private dinner recently, announcer and former goalie Gary Bailey, who has been involved in the last two World Cups, presented some of the lesser known statistics involved in holding a World Cup, and these stats are now all over the blogosphere.

  • Air tickets between Johannesburg to Cape Town will cost about R8,000 a seat as some flights have to leave same night after the games due to accommodation problems. This is if you can get a flight at all.
  • According to a blog posted after the event, Bailey apparently speculated that fresh veggies and fruit could be scarce, if not unavailable. During the World Cup in Germany, they had to import them.
  • Traffic will apparently increase by about 30% at the times of the games as fans go to the grounds or “Fan Parks”. It is expected that 550,000 people will be travelling to and from matches and 100,000 on each match day. So, he said, expect considerable delays on match days.
  • About 4,800 buses will be operational, which is great for fans, but there will be restrictions on truckers and hauliers, so if you need to move something during the tournament, brace yourself.

The whole event is reminiscent of the 1994 elections when people stocked up on baked beans and barricaded themselves in their houses. But when the event actually took place, it was a glory of fortitude and dedication, a true marvel to behold.

But the truth also is that the enduring memory is that it took an excruciatingly long time to get to damn well vote.

By Tim Cohen

Main photo: Fans blow vuvuzelas during celebrations at long street in Cape town, December 4, 2009. The tournament starts on June 11 next year. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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