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Secretly, Match blames South Africa

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.

The contempt in which Fifa and Match hold South Africans is astounding. Still, we're an amazing country.

It is here. If you don’t feel it, you’re deaf, blind and probably dead.

There’s a lot to be said for the government’s original aim in bidding for the World Cup: To spur investment in football, which has for too long been a poor cousin alongside the wealthier national sports of cricket and rugby. Despite the inept, self-serving administration that has been the hallmark of South African football, the people’s sport deserves its moment in the sun and can use an injection of cash.

Since so many people appear to consider me to be negative, or a killjoy, or even racist, let me also repeat what I said in my very first column calling for a boycott of Fifa: “We won’t make a hash of the 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa™. We’ll be fine. We’ll put on a great show, no matter what.”

And we have. The emotions of pride and unity as the tournament kicked off were expected, but no less awesome for it. It brought tears to the eyes, in a way that few things since the 1994 election queues (and the Gautrain launch) have been able to do.

How unfortunate, then, that to stage this spectacle we had to make a deal with the devil. We signed over sovereign rights to foreigners who, secretly, despise us.

The high-handed way in which Match, Fifa’s exclusive marketing partner, has dealt with our tourism industry is not news. It unceremoniously dumped unfilled beds back on guest houses and lodges that reserved them without charge. It levied a licence fee on tour packages, effectively excluding South African inbound operators from the market. It added a hefty margin for itself to the discount prices it squeezed out of South African businesses, before passing on those inflated prices to foreign tourists. Home owners, tempted by Fifa and Match’s claims of being short of beds, invested thousands in renovations and plans to let their properties. Most have been sorely disappointed.

At the opening match, an accredited journalist, Lauren Clifford-Holmes, multimedia editor of the Mail & Guardian, was summarily booted out of the stadium for shooting, well, multimedia.

“Unbelievable. Got kicked out. Some Fifa guy tore my accreditation off my neck and told security to take my camera and take me out of stadium,” she wrote on Twitter.

Apparently, the reason involved Fifa’s ban (one of a million Fifa bans) on video coverage of the event. I didn’t know you could still buy cameras that are incapable of shooting video.

“Just resent being manhandled by Fifa media ‘police’ and treated like a criminal without any proper explanation. Feel pretty abused!” she added.

Are Fifa and Match really such rapacious thugs?

We know the numbers and the facts. We know about the special laws that grant Fifa rights that no ordinary South African or foreign business enjoys. We know about the chokehold on any kind of marketing that doesn’t involve a hefty cut for Fifa.

But is this just business, or do Fifa and Match really hold South Africa in contempt, fit only for exploitation and extortion?

They most certainly do, and it appears they’re not even shy to talk about it, if a recent conversation between a reader and a Match employee is anything to go by. A transcript happened to come my way, but I will paraphrase the salient points to protect the source.

In the Match employee’s eyes, South African tourist businesses or guesthouse owners are simple, greedy, and unprofessional. They’re two-bit operations, who, if they thought they stood to make a little money from the World Cup, were “idiots”.

Match initially expected to be forced to stoop to deal with them for lack of adequate hotel accommodation. When expected visitor numbers dropped, Match thanked God for the release clauses in the contracts. The victims of these broken deals naturally felt misled, but the smug answer was that South Africans just do not read contracts.

So, it’s all our own fault that Match screwed us. Because we’re backward over here in Africa, the Match staffer proceeded to educate his interlocutor.

Apparently, the World Cup was never meant to benefit anyone directly, and especially not the insignificant small- and medium-sized businesses in the tourism industry. It was about the “big picture”, which he described as multinationals coming to South Africa a decade or so down the road so the small fry’s children can one day have jobs.

That those multinationals are, for the most part, already here, and that economic growth is largely centred on small businesses, escaped our friend from Match. As did his grasp of macro-economics, when he said that states are about spending more than they have in order to stimulate growth.

It is good, however, to be reassured that this whole expensive extravaganza is about our children, who might one day get to work for Coca-Cola or Adidas. It’s good to hear it’s not about Fifa and its partners reaping billions from South Africa’s investments and repatriating the loot, right now.

So, why were there fewer visitors than expected to buy accommodation from the hard-done-by Match? Turns out the hyperventilating British tabloid press and the negativity of expatriates is our fault too.

We only have ourselves to blame, he says, for being whining little… (let’s just say his phrasing would raise eyebrows in an army barracks).

Now that we know what Fifa’s partners think of South Africans, how can we support them?

Love South Africa. Love the sport. Welcome the foreign tourists. Cheer for Bafana. Nominate Khune for the Order of the Baobab.

Don’t let this spoil the event, but know that the rapacious profiteers who hijacked our government for their own mercenary purposes have nothing but contempt for us.

Boycott Fifa.


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