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Boycott FIFA

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.

Editor's note: In light of Wednesday's Fifa arrests, we thought you might want to read again this brilliant piece from January 2010.

It’s 2010. Adverts blare from every TV and radio telling us how marvellous the World Cup will be. Why, because FIFA hijacked our government?

We won’t make a hash of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. We’ll be fine. We may with hindsight rue the cost of building the stadiums and providing convoys of luxury black automobiles with flashing lights for FIFA bigwigs and VIPs. But we’ll put on a great show, no matter what.

However, I fear South Africans will regret the high-handed way in which FIFA has hijacked our government. It did this to obtain special privileges not available even to our own citizens. As a result, most South Africans are excluded by law from taking advantage of the event.

Regular law is perfectly adequate for hosting events. Organisers negotiate with venues and facilities, and sign voluntary contracts when they agree. If an organiser wants you to close shop for a day, it needs your consent, and may have to offer compensation. If a sponsor wants exclusivity, it arranges this with the property owner, who, upon sufficient payment, will impose such measures as the law allows. Ordinary contract and trademark law is perfectly adequate for such purposes.

But not for FIFA. FIFA has more rights than the rest of us, in our government’s eyes. For FIFA, our parliament has signed into law so-called “special measures”. These are laws that would not in the ordinary course of our democracy be imposed upon us.

Some of their provisions are eminently reasonable, such as clauses dealing with visa conditions for visiting football teams and their support staff, and suspension of restrictions on foreign medical contingents attached to teams. But not all of their content is so benign.

In the broad definition of “designated areas”, for example, it is entirely possible that your pub or shebeen or restaurant or shop or advertising hoarding may be included. Thought you could advertise your latest specials, or display your usual sponsor’s awning or umbrellas? No chance. “Special measures” trump your property and contract rights. Thought you could sell boerie rolls, idombolo, hot dogs or chakalaka outside stadiums, like you usually do? Unlikely, unless you’ve invested in special training and accreditation to which you’re not normally subject. If you have advertising billboards along busy and popular routes, expect that they will be voided for the duration of the tournament. If you enter a “designated area”, you become subject to a special search-and-seizure law. One wonders if they’re going to confiscate Nike shoes.

One shouldn’t object to voluntary contracts FIFA signs with local companies, even if they appear ridiculously tough. However, the principle on which South Africa was founded was equality in law. There is every reason to object when special laws are required to tilt the playing field in favour of special interests like FIFA and its partners, in ways that our regular law never intended. There’s every reason to object when those laws infringe on your private right to choose what you wish to buy, eat, wear or sell.

If the taxpayer-funded advertisements are to be believed, the World Cup (sorry, the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™) will bring great economic benefits to South Africa. However, actual examples are decidedly thin on the ground. The restrictions on football-related merchandise are draconian. FIFA has done everything in its power, including co-opt the force of our government, to prevent anyone but the chosen few from profiting.

Non-approved products and brands face strict limitations or outright bans on sale or promotion. Less than half the respondents to World Wide Worx’s annual SME survey thought their businesses would benefit from the event. I’ll wager hindsight will prove bitter for most of them.

If our government usually considers your bed-and-breakfast, tour operation, hotel, or transport service acceptable for use by foreign tourists, consider that consent withdrawn unless you get special permission. Next time you speak to someone in the tourism business, ask about the kickbacks, price diktats, red tape and hidden costs that are involved in getting official permission to include football tickets in your regular tour packages.

Think you’ll get work at the event? Think again. Instead of creating jobs in a developing country with high unemployment, FIFA is relying on the idle rich who can afford to volunteer. Paying people a decent wage isn’t why FIFA and its sponsors are here, and our government is failing to act in the interests of South African citizens by not insisting upon it.

In Soccernomics, a book written after the 2006 World Cup in Germany, economist Stefan Szymanski and sports journalist Simon Kuper note that if German experience is anything to go by, visitors spend much less than the host country does to prepare for the event. Local estimates are that the World Cup’s R20 billion contribution to GDP will be dwarfed by the R80 billion government will have spent on infrastructure. As they write: “The next World Cup will not be an airplane dropping dollars on South Africa.”

We rarely manage to fill even our current sports stadiums. The new, bigger stadiums will be white elephants, until we host another event on the scale of a football World Cup or Olympic Games. How many of those are we really expecting? One in a generation, if we’re lucky.

Our fancy new stadiums are already struggling to find post-2010 tenants, because their rents are too high and sport clubs believe their existing facilities to be perfectly adequate. For all the spectacle of the 2008 Olympic Games, a Chinese newspaper described the famous “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing as a “financial albatross”.

Szymanski and Kuper argue that although a major event like a World Cup can enhance a country’s morale and foreign image, urban regeneration or economic stimulus is far more efficient when it is narrowly directed. Building just what you need will cost you much less than spending billions on an event that, by law, can only enrich the organisers and sponsors.

Here is what I’ll be doing. I will boycott anything that is approved by FIFA.

I will not attend games, for fear of having to consume McDonalds, Coca-Cola or Budweiser, none of which I enjoy. I will not subject myself to fascist measures about my cobbled-together “supporter’s kit”. I have an official cap from a previous World Cup and a few scarves, shirts and jackets in the right colours. None of it is made by this year’s official sportswear sponsor, Adidas, but none of it needs replacing. I don’t need official jerseys, and certainly not at R750 a pop. I might get a vuvuzela and a flag, but only if they’re not FIFA-approved. I will do everything I can to avoid doing business with companies – like BP, FNB, Telkom, Hyundai, Sony, and MTN – who are swilling at the government-filled pork trough. I hope to be able to watch the games, but not on the official broadcaster, the SABC. SuperSport did an excellent job last time around, and it did so without following the SABC’s example of enriching FIFA by locating a broadcast centre in Munich. I’ll watch it at my local pub, where I can eat real food, and drink real ale, and not feel exploited by my own government.

I may be whistling into the wind, but I’ll feel a lot better knowing that my money makes up in some small part for the unjust treatment of South Africans who aren’t getting fat on patronage from the government-sanctioned FIFA cartel.

Support Bafana Bafana. Yell “handball!” whenever France scores a goal. Enjoy the beautiful game of football and the magnificent spectacle of the World Cup. Welcome the half-million foreign visitors. Introduce them to our wonderful people, and show off our great country. But boycott FIFA and its official sponsors. It’s the least a proud South African can do. DM


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