There used to be widespread doubt whether South Africa had the capacity to host FIFA’s gigantic quadrennial looting extravaganza, the World Cup.
Some of it was justified, but despite the challenges, the doubt about South Africa has been thoroughly dispelled. Of course, it’s not over yet, and there’s reason enough to still fear an attack against a team – the Danes, Dutch and Americans are particularly at risk – or a horrible crime against a tourist.
Even if such a horrible thing came to pass, however, South Africa can stand proud. It has proven itself more than capable of hosting this massive, global event. It has even added a new word – vuvuzela – to the global lexicon of exotic terms. Suck on that, Australians
Ironic, then, that the real news from this World Cup tournament is that FIFA itself turned out to be incapable of organising it.
What started with co-opting our government to grant it extraordinary rights to challenge contracts between third-parties, exclude South African businesses, and evade local taxation, has degenerated into a farce.
Among FIFA’s very few obligations was to sell tickets. Although it claims high numbers of sales, questions have been raised about empty seats at stadiums and the wisdom of relying on online sales on a continent that doesn’t have much internet.
The process has been fraught with complexity. When Local Organising Committee spokesperson Rich Mkhondo appeared on the radio to answer questions regarding the tournament, he was unable to answer even the simplest questions, and proposed that a “ticketing expert” from FIFA’s partner, Match Event Service, be invited onto the show.
What can be so complicated about selling a ticket to the footie? Here in Africa, we’ve been selling tickets to major events for years, without any trouble, and even our least-educated people understand perfectly well how it all works.
When it comes to the ball, another of FIFA’s responsibilities, it would appear that attempts to furnish the tournament with faster, more exciting play has backfired too. The ball is so skittish and unpredictable that even top players look like amateurs trying to control the ball at their feet, or striking from distance. Almost no goals have been scored from set pieces such as free kicks or corners, while goalkeepers are terrified of trying to catch the ball. Football is supposed to be a game of skill, not luck.
Everyone has been complaining: strikers, goalkeepers, mid-fielders, coaches, and ordinary fans. And for all FIFA’s good intentions with the surprisingly annoying ball, the goal tally for the tournament to date (as at the morning of 21 June) is the lowest ever, at 1.96 per match – well on track to beat 1990’s record low of 2.21 goals per match.
Then there’s the refereeing. The games have been littered with decisions which make even average fans of average intelligence in average South African pubs appear like experts on the rules of football, compared to the FIFA’s own referees.
In some cases, the errors look like deliberate cheating. A startling example is the double handball that resulted in a goal for Brazil’s Fabiano against the Ivory Coast. Video footage shows the French referee had seen at least one of the offences that led to the goal, but allowed it anyway. Afterwards, he chatted with the goalscorer, who protested his innocence while the referee just laughed it off.
However, almost every game includes at least one astonishing decision to make one doubt FIFA’s ability to arrange professional, competent referees for its flagship tournament.
Fabiano’s handball was reminiscent of Thierry Henry’s brazen cheating to ensure France qualified for the World Cup. What rankled most was his bald-faced admission afterwards: yes, it was handball, and the referee should have blown me up.
The decision to let the goal stand, and let France through instead of plucky first-timers Ireland, was upheld on appeal. It came, as the Star’s Kevin McCallum pointed out in a column published yesterday, after FIFA rigged up a seeding procedure to ensure that its favoured teams – including France – were represented in South Africa.
Now the impostors – as a French newspaper dubbed their team – have collapsed in a scandalous frenzy of infighting, training strikes, insubordination and resignations, and even the French media are rooting for a Bafana Bafana victory today. One can only wonder if FIFA still thinks rigging the game to make sure the arguing cheats got to South Africa was better than being honest and welcoming an Irish team to the big time. I live in the town where the French team stays, and I have yet to meet someone who wouldn’t have preferred to host the Irish, especially after the French tried to avoid the crowd who were out in a chilly dawn to welcome them, and had to be turned back by police towards the crowd-lined main road, only to whine about the amenities at the town’s most luxurious resort hotel.
While all this has been going on, FIFA has kept itself occupied with hunting down criminals in South Africa.
People like Bongani Sithole, a part-time employee of the South African Football Association, who happened to have a pair of complimentary tickets and offered them to a desperate fan for a fee. He was arrested, and the tickets confiscated, until a court found that he had contravened neither any law, nor the terms and conditions of the tickets. The hopeful buyer never did get to see the match.
Like Rodos Ioannides, a Bloemfontein coffee shop owner, who is in trouble for using the acronym “FIFO”, a well-known term for “First-In, First-Out”. The products he promotes cost R20.10. This price, it would appear, is illegal.
Innocent fans entering stadiums are searched by SAPS officers, under the direction of FIFA officials, to confiscate illegal clothes, folding umbrellas and handbags of criminal size. On the orders of FIFA, our own police stands ready to arrest our own citizens, should they be suspected of infringing the Byzantine laws our new masters have imposed.
The 56 special FIFA courts, staffed by 110 magistrates, 260 prosecutors, 93 foreign language interpreters, 110 local language interpreters, 1 140 court officials and 327 court orderlies who usually just laze around our regular courts all day, has heard 18 cases to date, reports Mail & Guardian journalist Lionel Faull. He notes that with a total budget of R45 million, this works out to R1.75 million for each of the eight convictions. Our FIFA magistrates, naturally, have a lot of time to follow the football, and can credibly call it research, to boot.
Pierre de Vos, who bears the weighty title of Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance at the University of Cape Town, has expressed doubts about the constitutionality of a number of the laws and by-laws written just for FIFA. One criminal was arrested because she distributed political pamphlets near a fan park. Last time I (and De Vos) checked, freedom of expression was a constitutional right in South Africa. Political pamphlets cannot be said to infringe on the commercial rights which FIFA claims, so there are no clear grounds for ruling them illegal. Although the guilty party was probably a dangerous socialist, it is unwise to make political martyrs out of political fools.
Most famously, however, the Fifascists arrested a group of pretty young women who doffed their Danish colours when the Netherlands scored its first goal to reveal fetching orange miniskirts. Orange is, of course, the official team colour, but the outfits were supplied by Bavaria, which is not a sponsor of the World Cup.
The gang of criminals were subjected to a lengthy interrogation, which took place not in a police station or courtroom, but in a FIFA office. Some of the women were reportedly in tears as officials threatened them with jail time, and – according to a Dutch football paper – with being undressed on the spot. Two women, both Dutch nationals, were charged, not on civil grounds for breach of their contract with FIFA as embodied in the entrance ticket, but for criminal offences. They were granted astonishingly high bail considering the minor nature of the alleged offence, and had their passports confiscated while they await their day in court.
The Dutch government has formally asked South African authorities whether a law exists that prescribes one can be prosecuted for wearing an orange dress. It has also requested FIFA and the aggrieved sponsor, Budweiser, to pick on someone their own size and sue Bavaria in a civil court for damages, instead of harassing a bevy of young girls, most of whom were innocent hires from a local talent agency.
Robbie Earle, an ITV sports commentator who supplied the girls with tickets from his employer’s stash of complimentaries, was summarily fired, which made the story that much bigger in the UK, one of the world’s biggest football and beer markets. (So much for Rich Mkhondo’s silly argument that tickets are cash equivalents, and cannot be connected to the buyer.)
Marketing types have been having a field day laughing at how FIFA shot itself in both feet with a sawn-off shotgun by taking such draconian measures over a stunt that would have gone unnoticed otherwise.
Everywhere, people are turning to Bavaria as a palatable alternative to the Budweiser swill which most South Africans find vile. The brand’s visibility has rocketed worldwide, and its website traffic has hit new records. FIFA’s efforts on behalf of its non-sponsor went well beyond the call of duty, and Bavaria, which has graciously offered to cease its miniskirt campaign, must be exceptionally grateful.
A reader sent me a picture of his pretty daughter, dressed in orange, sipping from a Bavaria bottle. This gave me an idea.
No, not that kind of idea. Here is what I propose.
If Holland makes it to the final, I will, instead of wearing my usual orange outfit – which is a crime against both fashion and FIFA’s marketing regulations – don an orange skirt. I will be drinking Bavaria.
I will arrange to be photographed, both as evidence, and because I cannot see myself braving the chill for longer than it takes to do a photo-shoot.
My theory is that if I do not inform Bavaria of my intentions, nor bill Bavaria for providing free marketing, I can defend myself against criminal charges. The downside, of course, is that if I am arrested, I’ll find myself in a cold jail cell with hardened criminals, wearing only an orange miniskirt.
But admit it. You’ve always wanted a picture of me in a short dress. So cheer on the Dutch eleven. Hup Holland! Oranje boven!