All rise. The court is now in session. The accused before you, my Lord, is South Africa, and the charge is whether all that money spent on the 2010 Soccer World Cup was worth it? Was it an investment in our future or a crime against the people? Is the recording equipment working? Good. Then let’s proceed. By ALEX ELISEEV.
This time last year, we were just a few hours away from kick off. Cars were driving around with colourful flags, companies were inventing World Cup words, parades were snaking through the streets and we were all drunk on euphoria. We learnt to blow vuvuzelas, pretended to like Shakira and wore soccer jerseys to work on Fridays.
Even I got a little carried away by the stream of excitement. I made a home video of how my girlfriend and I went to the opening game, dressed in more yellow than we ever thought possible. It was a cold morning, but a warm feeling. A beautiful distraction by a beautiful game.
But we’re all sober now. A year has passed. Fifa has moved on, like my ex-girlfriend who’s already married to someone else, while we are left watching TV, eating ice-cream and asking ourselves whether the billions we blew gave us any tangible return-on-investment.
I have spent well over a week investigating this question. Speaking to people on the street, to economists, politicians and businessmen. What I’ve come to realise, is that there is no simple answer. Not yet. Not ever, perhaps. Each South African has to step up on the bench, slip on his robe and act as a judge. Are you ready for the arguments?
The prosecution will go first. Economists will argue that if you believe the World Cup was a profitable venture, you’re smoking your socks. With all due respect, of course. They will say there’s no evidence to show the economy grew significantly or that the tournament made any kind of dent in unemployment. They’ll tell you we should have bargained harder with Fifa (which hosted it’s most lucrative World Cup ever) and that we were all waiting for the event to be this great “tipping point” in our economic history. Which it wasn’t. You’ll hear about the stadiums being under-utilised, the albatrosses around our necks, the other things we could have invested in (hospitals, housing, and so on) and the over-supply of hotels, many of which are now struggling to fill their rooms.
“It’s was a great party,” the economists will say. “But not an economic success”.
You’ll then hear from the defence. This will be a much bigger team, full of silks, heavyweights and celebrities. And their argument will require many lever-arch files crammed with figures. They will tell you that an extra million people visited South Africa last year (roughly 300 000 of whom were here for the soccer). This means there was a spike in spending. They will tell you that this year, already, the tourism figures are looking promising, with a 9% growth in January.
The marketing crew will explain the country’s brand has never been stronger. That a good reputation is helping us fish for investment and trade agreements. That the Wal-Mart deal and us getting into the Bric club is all part of the snowball effect of proving ourselves to the world. We have the top brand in Africa, they will say, pausing for dramatic effect. The politicians will try convince you the World Cup added at least half a percent on to our GDP last year and injected more than R70 billion into the economy. They will say that more than 130 000 (albeit temporary) jobs were created, which is pretty good going. The City of Joburg will produce studies to show that for every rand invested, almost R8 was generated. It will point to the Gautrain, the BRT network and the airport to show that new infrastructure will benefit us for decades. And even though the projects needed to be done anyway, it will say, the World Cup pushed government from talk to walk.
You will be shown exhibits and slideshows of the beautiful FNB stadium. The 95,000-seat Calabash has already started to turn a profit and is not draining money from the municipal coffers. You will hear it’s had around 2 million people pass through its doors and can attract almost R200 million in spending during one big TriNations game.
The prosecution will object. “What about the stadiums in Cape Town or Durban? They are not performing as well, and are costing taxpayers millions of Rand a month…” “We’ll leave that for argument,” you’ll mumble.
Danny Jordaan will step into the witness box. The man behind the bid and the former head of the Local Organising Committee. He will be asked: “Was it all worth it?” And he won’t skip a heart beat before replying: “Absolutely”. He will say the World Cup did for South Africa’s image what hundreds of millions of rands and a decade of marketing couldn’t. It got the crime “monkey” off our shoulder, with the world realising that you don’t need a bullet-proof vest to come here. He will talk about the legacy of the infrastructure and of national unity, and of how the credit must go to South Africans for being amazing hosts.
The sports experts will say that more whites are venturing into Soweto to watch soccer, there is more excitement about local teams and plenty of grassroots development taking place. You will be shown research that at least 90% of South Africans felt proud of their country during and after the World Cup. The Homecoming Revolution will say the websites and blogs are blazing with expats in Australia and New Zealand discussing coming back.
And then the court will fall silent. And you will be left to decide which argument makes more sense. You will look at the public gallery and find few answers there, with each person holding his or her own view. Some may even say that talking about it is useless, because nothing can undo the fact that we, as a country, chose to embark on this project. Others may claim that it’s too early to judge, that we need to give it another five or 10 years.
But this isn’t the Boeremag trial. We need to think long and hard about the consequences of the decisions we make. And we need to weigh up the power of the “gees” versus the realities of our country. We need to look around us – from the shiny Gautrain station to the shacks in nearby Alexandra – and ask ourselves: Was it all worth it? Well … was it? DM
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