Defend Truth


So, what are your unreasonable expectations for the World Cup?

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

It has been a brutal few weeks, hasn’t it? We’ve all been formally introduced to Fifa’s way of doing things and, as with any loss of innocence, it has been painful. The World Cup isn’t going to fix anything, is it?

Before we welcome the football fans to our shores, don our “Rainbow-Nation” grins and head out to watch a few lavishly paid athletes kick each other in the shins, let us take a moment to laugh at our collective folly.

It takes a lot to fool the average person, so one imagines it would take something pretty spectacular to hoodwink an entire country. And yes, it does actually. You’d have to have a heart of clumpy soil and a soul of yesterday’s boiled spinach not to agree that the Fifa World Cup is a pretty spectacular event. The expensive hairstyles, the gaudy football jerseys, the spectacular displays of pain on the field whenever someone gets nudged – all very impressive. Naturally then, countries are eager to host this glorious event. Yet we must be the first one not to have realised what the true cost of hosting a Fifa World Cup is. Worse than that, we all seemed to believe it would bring about a swift end to this country’s problems.

It’s still a bit odd that no one thought to find out exactly how Fifa operates. Take the opening concert debacle, for instance. It seems as if the first time our local musicians discovered that it wasn’t up to them to decide who’d get to play at that concert, was when the line-up was announced. They seemed to have naively assumed that a World Cup on South African soil would naturally feature South African artists.

Danny Jordaan and his local organising committee minions must have known, though. I’m sure the politicians had a fairly good idea of what would happen once the circus rode into town. Why didn’t they tell us? (Let the conspiracy theorists supply a suitably colourful theory here) Jordaan has lots to answer for. Lots.

I remember one old lady who phoned into a radio station to give her opinion on the World Cup. She seemed quite convinced that this rapturous event, would rescue her out of her miserable circumstances. To hear her describe the World Cup, Sepp Blatter is going to arrive in a golden litter, borne aloft by greased eunuchs, spreading goodwill and free bread in his wake. He is going to cure Aids. No one will ever go hungry again, after Sepp Blatter has been. It was touchingly naive, and I couldn’t help feeling that hers was the prevailing opinion among the lumpen masses, as Essop Pahad would call our country’s poor.

Ah, but before you sneer at the great unwashed, consider what unreasonable expectations you have for the World Cup. I’ll tell you mine – I honestly thought that the World Cup would be the impetus needed by our transport department to implement a proper public transport system in the cities. I thought they’d kindly let the taxi industry know where to get off and get the BRT system going. I even hoped they’d do something about the trains. Ah, the sweetness of innocence.

One of the more ridiculous expectations that I’ve come across is that the hosting of the World Cup would somehow end crime. The thinking was, and forgive me if I get this wrong, but it is a pretty slippery idea, that the cops would be worried about Johnny Tourist’s safety and would, therefore, start doing their jobs. Or, Fifa would threaten to withdraw the World Cup from South Africa if something wasn’t done about the crime rate. Which is funny, because if you consider that Blatter doesn’t actually care about you and me, then you arrive at a much scarier conclusion: The cops are called away to defend the visiting fans and dignitaries, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

I could go on, but what’s the good of focusing on the rotten bit of the apple when there’s a still a lot to be salvaged? Yes, it was a raw deal. But it’s going to happen, so we might as well try to make something of it. More than 350,000 (or so we’re told) fans are expected to arrive in our country. That’s thousands of people who probably wouldn’t have pitched up. They’re going to be spending money in our country, some of which will eventually trickle down to us, once Fifa has taken its pound of flesh. More importantly, if they have a good time in South Africa, they’ll want to come back. Now there’s a reasonable expectation.


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