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.