When the world came to South Africa

When the world came to South Africa
SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA – 11 June 2010: Bafana's Siphiwe Tshabalala in action during the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening match between Bafana Bafana and Mexico on June 11, 2010 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Foto24/Denvor de Wee)

Exactly 10 years ago Siphiwe Tshabalala’s 55th minute sweet left-footed strike exploded the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa into life, igniting a month-long party that had been a decade in the making.

When Danny Jordaan and his World Cup Organising Committee (LOC) bid team gathered at Zurich airport in mid-2000, they were licking their wounds after an extraordinary few days.

South Africa had put in a strong bid to host the 2006 Fifa World Cup but came up empty-handed, losing by 12 votes 11 to the German offering. Charlie Dempsey, a New Zealander on the Fifa Council, abstained from voting even though he had been mandated to support the South African bid. The dream of hosting Africa’s first World Cup had been shattered by the murky dealings of global sports politics that the slightly naïve South African delegation failed to grasp.

SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA – 20 May 2010: Zakumi, the official mascot for the 2010 Fifa World Cup and Danny Jordaan, the CEO of the 2010 Fifa World Cup attend the handover of the busses sponsored by Hyundai at Soccer City in Soweto, South Africa on 2 May 2010.  (Photo by Gallo Images/City Press/Khaya Ngwenya)

Jordaan and his team, which included Irvin Khoza, Michael Katz, Molefe Oliphant and Koos Bekker, spent the flight home talking and pondering their next move. Should there even be a next move? Was it worth going through the exercise again?

“By the time we landed back in Johannesburg we had a pretty good sense that we would bid again,” Jordaan told Daily Maverick. “Everybody on that flight agreed that we have to go back and give it another shot.

“The biggest deciding factor was that because of what happened in the 2006 bid process, Fifa announced that they were going to move to a rotational system and that the 2010 World Cup would only be open to African bids. That was a vital element.

“It was clear to us that we would have a good chance of winning if we bid again. Our thinking was galvanised again after we landed back in Joburg. There were hundreds of people cheering and wishing us well. It was obvious we had to give it another go.”

Four more years of planning and tweaking the bid book and lobbying and charming Fifa delegates followed. In the world of football politics, South Africa had to get dirty too, even if inadvertently.

In 2016, it emerged that the South African Football Association (Safa) paid $10-million into a development fund, which Fifa subsequently agreed constituted a bribe in a 22-page submission to the US Department of Justice. Under the heading “Defendants, Warner and Blazer’s $10-million 2010 Fifa World CupTM Vote Scheme”, Fifa claimed that a number of officials abused their positions and that members Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer engineered a scheme for a $10-million pay-off in exchange for votes for the tournament.

Safa and South African sports minister at the time Fikile Mbalula denied the claims. Jordaan did eventually concede the money was paid, but denied it was a bribe. He said that the $10-million was paid to the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) in 2008 as a contribution towards their football development fund.

“I haven’t paid a bribe or taken a bribe from anybody in my life. We don’t know who is mentioned there (in the US indictment). And I don’t want to assume that I am mentioned,” Jordaan said in 2016.


PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – 16 June 2010: Siphiwe Tshabalala from South Africa and Diego Forlan from Uruguay during the 2010 World Cup soccer game between South Africa and Uruguay on June 16, 2010 at Loftus in Pretoria, South Africa. Uruguay beat South Africa 3-0. (Photo by Gallo Images/Foto24/Craig Nieuwenhuizen)

“They can ask all the executives of Fifa that I have engaged with. During my tenure as CEO at the 2010 World Cup Organising Committee, I was bound by regulations set out in the Schedule of Delegated Authority (Soda). Under that authority, I could authorise payments of a maximum of R1-million. 

Against this backdrop of, well, wheeling and dealing, South Africa won the right to host the 2010 World Cup on 15 May 2004, which set in motion some of the most ambitious projects in post-Apartheid South Africa.

The country had six years to ready itself, which included building six new stadiums, multiple training and practice venues and refurbishing another four existing stadiums. National government undertook multibillion-rand projects to renovate airports, build new roads and ensure the Gautrain line was delivered in time for the global showpiece.

Preparing the ground

“Fifa was formed in 1904 and it took exactly 100 years for Africa to be awarded its first World Cup,” Jordaan recalls. “Even after we won the bid, we were hobbled. Until that time there had never been a notion of a plan B – a back-up plan in case the host country failed. After we won, that question was raised continually and we had to fight hard to eradicate that perception.

“Crime was presented as a huge problem and I had to keep asking journalists in return, “please name one country where there is no crime?” They didn’t have an answer.”

The LOC drove the project but preparing the country for a World Cup needed the full might of the government’s backing, finance and support structures. Both the LOC and the government, though, were fully committed and driven by the fear of failure as much as anything. Despite the perception that Fifa would send in swathes of clinical German bureaucrats to crack the whip, it was local expertise that ensured deadlines were met and unique African challenges were handled with local knowledge and insight.

“We had one main LOC office in Johannesburg and later established venue offices at all the stadiums around the country as they were being built and finalised,” says Derek Blanckensee. He is now the general manager at football giants Orlando Pirates, but in 2010 he was the Competition Chief Officer for the LOC.

“There were a few hiccups in the early days. For the first few months, every morning at 7.30am we had a meeting and discussed the issues that needed addressing. After a while Fifa’s delegates tasked with overseeing the progress started cancelling the meetings because everything was running so smoothly. We met much more infrequently from then on.

“Host cities had many obligations to meet in the contracts with Fifa – it wasn’t just about getting one stadium ready. Roads, hotels, approaches and city dressing needed to be brought up to requirements and then I had to meet with government regularly. Ministers and director generals of various departments were in these meetings and as the LOC, we had to ensure that the government was on track to deliver its end of the deal.

“Fifa and the South African government had entered into huge contracts, which had stiff deliverables. The LOC wasn’t directly involved in implementing all those deliverables but we had to keep track and give input on potential issues where appropriate.

“Those meetings with the government were chaired by Nahlana Nene, who was the deputy finance minister at the time. He had a lot of clout if things needed doing and failing that, we would go to Danny (Jordaan), who had the ear of the highest powers in government. But generally the government departments delivered. There were no major issues that I recall.”

One of the criticisms of the entire 2010 project was the need to build so many new stadiums, especially as a decade on, they are generally underutilised.

“People forget that in 2008 most of the world’s markets collapsed with American banks foreclosing,” Jordaan says. “Economies were collapsing globally but because we were building towards this huge event in South Africa, the impact of the recession didn’t hit us as hard.

“The World Cup somehow cushioned us because of the thousands of jobs it created. There was criticism about the cost of new stadiums and the need for them, but it was always understood, and explained, that these were multi-purpose stadiums. They could not be for football alone because outside of three clubs, football can never fill those stadiums.

“SA Rugby has made two bids to host Rugby World Cups based on the existing infrastructure built for 2010.”

Blanckensee adds: “We could have staged the tournament with fewer stadiums but it was good to have it in all the different areas of the country. We didn’t leave too many South Africans out of the experience. It wasn’t like they were all new stadiums.

“There were lots of training grounds built and people don’t realise how much those are used these days.

“But I think the biggest legacy we left was in the minds of people. Before I joined the LOC, I was on a trip to Ghana and a young man came up to me and said, ‘you have a big responsibility to prove to the world that Africa can do it. That it can host a successful World Cup.’

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – 23 June 2010: Asamoah Gyan from Ghana and Jerome Boateng from Germany during the 2010 World Cup soccer game between Ghana and Germany on June 24, 2010 at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Foto24/Ian Carbutt)

“And I think that’s what we achieved. There was so much negativity and so many predictions that the entire tournament was going to be a huge mess  and South Africa proved the world wrong. In the end we showed that not only we could do it, but we could do it exceptionally well. It changed the world’s perceptions about Africa’s capabilities.

“Months after the tournament ended, we had a ‘wash-up’ meeting in Zurich where we presented our final report on the tournament to Fifa. Jim Brown, who was Fifa’s head of competitions and who had been on our case for the past six years, addressed the council.

“He told the gathering that the one lesson he and Fifa had learned from the South African experience was that the only people who can organise a World Cup is the LOC. And he also added that one of the LOC’s most important jobs was to organise Fifa.

“It was true. We had one guy from Fifa who was on our case a lot and he kept demanding to see operational plans for various things. At one meeting I eventually asked him: ‘where was Fifa’s operational plan for South Africa?’ And that’s part of the problem Fifa has – it doesn’t generally retain knowledge from one tournament to the next. They start over each time with new people and new documents and plans.”

The Tournament

Despite years of negativity, mostly from the European media, South Africa met its deadlines, built the stadiums, roads, hotels, airports and even got the Gautrain ready on time. Over 300,000 foreigners visited the country over the month-long duration of the tournament. 

Contrary to some pre-tournament opinions, South Africa delivered on every count. There were some minor problems with transport to and from some stadiums and some wage disputes between stewards and employers at some venues, but they were quickly solved.

Over 40,000 police officers were deployed while temporary courts were established to rapidly prosecute any miscreants. Only 172 cases were heard at these courts and cases of serious crime linked to the World Cup were almost non-existent.

By the end of the group phase, Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke jokingly said that South Africa would become ‘Plan B’ for all future tournaments.

On 11 June 2010 nearly 90,000 people attended the opening ceremony and match of the World Cup between hosts South Africa and a strong Mexico team. Bafana Bafana were in a pool of death, which also included France and Uruguay. Taking one of the two qualifying berths from that group was always a tall order, but the campaign started wonderfully.

After a cagey opening half with few chances either way, a quick counterattack from inside their own half saw Teko Modise put Tshabalala into space. He took a couple of touches and then drove a thunderbolt into the top corner of the goal to send the country into near joyous meltdown.

“As soon as the ball left my foot, I knew it was going in,” Tshabalala told New Frame this week as his goal was replayed endlessly on social media channels. “Everything about it was perfect. It was just a surreal moment. It took me back to when I was a kid, the joy I had when I played football. When I was a kid, I used to dream about scoring important goals. Whenever we would score, we would run around and celebrate while cheering for ourselves.”

Mexico would equalise and after a 3-0 loss to Uruguay, which included a red card for goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune South Africa beat France 2-1 but failed to progress on goal difference, becoming the first hosts not to make it into the second round.

“There were a lot of expectations for us to do well,” said Tshabalala. “We took that in our stride because the whole country supported us. We were determined to advance to the next round, but it wasn’t the case.

“We made minor mistakes that cost us dearly at the end. That was the difference between us going into the knockout stage and being eliminated in the group stage. We should have won the first game, but we didn’t take our chances. When we got the red card against Uruguay, it made our job even harder and we struggled to cope. We did well against France, but then our fate wasn’t entirely in our hands. It was disappointing to not go far.” 

Despite Bafana’s early exit the tournament was a roaring success with Spain going on to become the eighth different World Cup winners and the first European side to win outside of Europe. Spain, who suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Switzerland in their opening game, also became the first team to lose a match and go on to win a World Cup when they beat the Netherlands 1-0 in a foul-ridden final. Andres Iniesta’s 117th minute goal was the latest ever scored to win the final.

The month felt like a few days as 64 matches whizzed by in a blur. Visitors came and went quickly and after six years of preparing and 10 years of planning, it was over, leaving South Africa with happy memories and years of goodwill that translated to strong tourism numbers for the next few years.

For those at the coal face of ensuring the country not only delivered, but enhanced perceptions about South Africa and the continent, it was well worth the effort even though there was a huge empty feeling when it ended.

“The next day after the final was one of the worst days I can remember,” Blanckensee says. “We went from organising the biggest sports event in the world, and from a World Cup final, to nothing, in the blink of an eye.

“The day after everyone was gone. The teams were gone, including winners Spain, who chartered a plane back to Madrid on the night of the final. I went from getting 150 emails a day to about 11 the next day.

“Questions will always remain about whether it was worth it. But if you look at the legacy it left behind – the roads, the upgraded airports, amazing stadiums and the image of a country and a continent that can excel, then it was.

“Fifa didn’t pay for it, South Africa did, but if there wasn’t a driving force such as preparing for the World Cup behind it, would these upgrades and developments ever come? We accelerated development.”

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – 11 July 2010: Gregory van der Wiel and Mark van Bommel of Netherlands with Andres Iniesta of Spain during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Foto24/Felix Dlangamandla)

The balance sheet of the World Cup will always be in question, but the infrastructure that was built is still there. Had the country not had 10 years of a Jacob Zuma regime that hollowed out institutions, and rather used the 2010 World Cup as a springboard for building prosperity, the question over its legacy might never be raised.

Some people regret that South Africa staged the tournament and many don’t. The reality is, it happened and it was a triumph for the country on many levels. And boy, was it fun. DM


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