World Cup Soccer In Africa: Who Really Wins?

In June 2010 the world’s most popular sporting event – soccer’s FIFA World Cup – will come to Africa for the first time. With less than two weeks remaining before the first match of the month-long tournament, one can practically hear the soon to be famous vuvuzelas – ubiquitous and deafening plastic horns that South Africans love to blow during the games – all the way around the world, such is the gathering media hype.

There is no doubting the overwhelming sense of excitement at large in South Africa. However, if one digs a little deeper, there are also those who question the vast sums being spent by the government of what is still a nation with millions of its citizens living in poverty.

With that in mind, in 2008 I began making the documentary film World Cup Soccer In Africa: Who Really Wins? to investigate what South Africans, across the social spectrum, believed the staging of the FIFA World Cup would mean for them personally, and for the country as a whole.  The objective was to assemble a record of hopes and expectations, at that time in the country’s history – something to look back upon after the tournament was over, and in the context of actual experience (as explored in interviews to be conducted subsequently in late 2010).

There was, without exception, interest in the project expressed by everyone who was approached for an interview.  The ultimate list of interviewees was essentially determined by logistics – whether they were present in a particular city on the same day that I was.  For example, as luck had it, Archbishop Tutu got back to Cape Town on a Thursday afternoon, two days before I got to Cape Town on the Saturday.  He was flying to London on Monday afternoon.  We received a call on Monday morning to be advised that the Archbishop would be available for an interview at 11.30 am.  We shuffled our schedule.  The interview ended with the Archbishop’s secretary knocking on the door and insisting that it was beyond the time for him to leave for the airport.

On the road, as we travelled from city to city, and town to town, speaking to people, the film’s central theme came into focus.  Why would a country with daunting socio-economic challenges, choose to spend its limited resources on building the world’s most modern sports arenas?  This question (and the film itself) does not suggest that South Africa should not be hosting the World Cup.  It concerns why a Third World country, which will be providing the facilities for FIFA to make more money than it has ever made from a single tournament, should not have used its existing stadiums – as it did when it staged World Cups in Rugby and Cricket, and the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009 – and staged the event in a manner more in keeping with the country’s actual circumstances and capacity.

What emerged in the course of making the film is that decisions were taken to abandon plans to renovate existing stadiums, in favor of building new facilities.  In Cape Town and Durban, the building of new stadiums has rendered existing stadiums obsolete.  There will certainly be no use for two large stadiums in each of these cities, and the local municipality has acknowledged that it intends to demolish the 55,000-seat Kings Park stadium – where Manchester United, Manchester City, and every major international rugby team, have played in front of capacity crowds.

Given that the World Cup is essentially a television event, one is left to wonder whether the enjoyment of fans around the world is really dependent on whether a match is being played in a stadium that is less than a year old.  Sure, shots of brand new stadiums will look good before the kick-off but, to put things in perspective, is this a good reason to divert South Africa’s limited resources away from keeping people alive and building houses for them? And when the historic significance of a tournament of this caliber being staged in Africa is trumpeted by FIFA and the organizers, is it not curious that a First World model (which South Africa can ill-afford) is being adhered to?

Perhaps the most astonishing part of the film concerns the building of a stadium in Mbombela – a rural area near the Kruger National Park where tourists go to see wildlife.  Near a town which does not have a top flight soccer or rugby team, and which does not have a population of the necessary magnitude to provide any enduring fan base, a 48,000-seat stadium is being built to stage 4 World Cup matches over a 10 day period.  No coherent explanation has been provided as to the stadium’s use after the World Cup is over.  We found, during the course of interviews conducted in November 2008, that students had been evicted from their school, to make way for the construction company which uses the classrooms as its offices.  The students have been placed in temporary steel classrooms, where they complain of heat and a lack of ventilation.  The dissatisfaction of students has been expressed in attempts to blockade the stadium, and setting fire to some of the classrooms.  Some of the students have been prosecuted, one of whom speaks on camera about his treatment at the hands of the police and how his hopes of getting to university have been adversely affected.    That aspect of the film has remained an open wound in the area.  Last month student protests were dispersed by the police with rubber bullets.  There is also concern that the local community who reside in shacks with view of the stadium will be evicted before the tournament starts.

The responses to the film – from those who attended the Durban International Film Festival – have been to express appreciation for the film’s revelation that the interests of the majority of South Africans have been subordinated, and that the real beneficiaries will be FIFA (who will not be sharing its television revenues or paying for the stadiums), and the construction companies (who have been making unprecedented profits during the time they have had these lucrative projects on their books).

Having conducted the first phase of interviews in late 2008, I considered that the material that had been unearthed was so compelling and controversial, that it demanded release in film ahead of the World Cup, at a time when there would be curiosity around the world about the setting for the tournament. World Cup Soccer In Africa: Who Really Wins? will be released by The Disinformation Company in the United States and Canada on DVD and for download via iTunes, Amazon VOD, and select cable TV Video-on-Demand systems on June 15, 2010. Anyone who views the film is invited to leave their thoughts and comments on this web page. Thank you – and enjoy the games.

Craig Tanner, writer, producer & director, World Cup Soccer In Africa: Who Really Wins?

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  • tonyviner

    During the last World Cup I had this fascinating dream wherein Al-Queda won the tournament. I went to work the next day to tell everyone and they all just looked at me like I was a weirdo.

  • tonyviner

    During the last World Cup I had this fascinating dream wherein Al-Queda won the tournament. I went to work the next day to tell everyone and they all just looked at me like I was a weirdo.

  • vicwiz

    I would buy this film if it would stop the crisis the locals are facing. But if I do the film make would just be making money off the poor locals and would do nothing toward making the situation better. People loved to be entertained by a crisis because they feel someone is worse off than they are. Especially the middle class. No thanks play on. People who have nothing at a certain place and no hope at that certain place should try to relocated to a more nurturing part of the earth instead of dying because of their circumstances, hope is something worth dying for, and staying at a place with no resources while trying to have kids is just dumb and primal.

  • orangethief

    I wonder what will happen to the stadiums after the world cup. They obviously will not be used for any major sporting events, and the only other uses of stadiums that I heard of is either mass incarceration or squating. vicwiz has a point about what this film would actually do for the residents surrounding these stadiums, even though I would argue that this event has a significance for the African continent. I do feel that a subsequent documentary made in about 6-12 months time about what happens to these stadiums in the rural environments (with proceeds going to the community) would be more fruitful in the exposure of these limited gangrenous sporting events and how they effect the local populace.

    • vicwiz

      yeah you are right maybe it will help it stop from happening in some other country in the future. Like I love soccer but I love helping people become autonomous infinitely more.

  • Alwyn Kotze

    I love how completely blurred the image of South Africa is to the overseas community. I live in Pretoria, South Africa. I’m a white 21 year old male, I study BCom Accounting Sciences and follow politics on a daily basis. This whole argument should be obsolete. The Black government has been making housing promises for the better of the last 15 years and they have not delivered at all. The uneducated masses in poverty will vote for any charismatic black leader that walks into their township and starts blabbing on about how the white people took everything from them.

    This is probably the biggest issue in the country. Our president didn’t even finish school. Before he became the president, he was trialed for more than 20 charges of corruption and even one of rape.

    Our country is being ruled by a corrupted, unintelligent guy with 12 wives. It’s a joke over here. The white people and even the black middle class thinks our government is a complete joke.

    As for the billions spent on stadiums. There were also lots of money spent on the first proper train, Gautrain, that runs through Johannesburg and Pretoria, our main highways have been significantly upgraded and the boost this world cup gives our infrastructure is essential.

    The black corrupted leaders who promised their people to care for them in order to get votes actually got those votes and when they came to power, they just started buying themselves shit and stopped caring about the poor people, where our churches, community groups and charities have to care for their voters.

    It’s a f*cking comedy over here.

  • Alwyn Kotze

    I love how completely blurred the image of South Africa is to the overseas community. I live in Pretoria, South Africa. I'm a white 21 year old male, I study BCom Accounting Sciences and follow politics on a daily basis. This whole argument should be obsolete. The Black government has been making housing promises for the better of the last 15 years and they have not delivered at all. The uneducated masses in poverty will vote for any charismatic black leader that walks into their township and starts blabbing on about how the white people took everything from them.

    This is probably the biggest issue in the country. Our president didn't even finish school. Before he became the president, he was trialed for more than 20 charges of corruption and even one of rape.

    Our country is being ruled by a corrupted, unintelligent guy with 12 wives. It's a joke over here. The white people and even the black middle class thinks our government is a complete joke.

    As for the billions spent on stadiums. There were also lots of money spent on the first proper train, Gautrain, that runs through Johannesburg and Pretoria, our main highways have been significantly upgraded and the boost this world cup gives our infrastructure is essential.

    The black corrupted leaders who promised their people to care for them in order to get votes actually got those votes and when they came to power, they just started buying themselves shit and stopped caring about the poor people, where our churches, community groups and charities have to care for their voters.

    It's a f*cking comedy over here.