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The real cost of the World Cup

With the opening match of the 2010 World Cup just a week away, hopes that the huge cost of staging the tournament would “showcase” South Africa, encourage inward investment and boost living standards seem misplaced.

Instead, hosting the tournament has drawn accusations that the £4 billion would have been better spent on housing and education. These sit alongside claims of inflated ticket prices, draconian security measures, a wave of evictions around the host cities, empty hotel rooms and a clampdown on local businesses by football’s governing body, Fifa.

While South Africa is the richest country on the continent, phenomenal levels of poverty still exist. There is a global record HIV/AIDS population of 5.7 million out of 49 million; some 50% live below the poverty line and one in three people are out of work after 15 years of ANC government rule.

In 2004, when Fifa awarded the tournament to South Africa, consultants Grant Thornton predicted costs of just £200m on stadiums and infrastructure and a boost to gross domestic product of £2 billion. The total bill has risen tenfold, when you take the upgrading of transport and telecommunications infrastructure into account, as well as running costs.

The World Cup organisers had expected 750,000 foreign fans but it is now estimated that only 200,000 visitors are heading to South Africa. Fifa put 160,000 tickets up for sale on Thursday morning after sponsors returned thousands of unwanted seats. Many tickets were allocated to corporate packages which have not been taken up.

The South African government has allocated £122 million to ensure maximum security for the month-long world Cup tournament. Some £60 million has been spent on equipment, which – in addition to armoured vehicles and helicopters – includes sniper rifles, surveillance cameras, advanced bomb-disabling equipment and water cannons. One of the tasks of the 40,000 police and 20,000 soldiers on duty is to enforce Fifa’s ruling that only approved merchandise is on sale on match days within a one-mile radius.

Anti-poverty campaigners in South Africa are blaming the World Cup for a wave of evictions around some of the host cities. They say the poorest are being swept from the streets. Outside Cape Town, some 1,500 corrugated iron shacks laid out in rows have appeared over the last two years. "It's because of the World Cup, they never did this to us before," Marietta Monagee said. "They want to clean the city and they put us here so people don't see how we struggle."

Nicholas Tucker, publicity secretary of the Socialist Party of Azania, believes that hosting the World Cup was a mistake and that the billions of rands “have yet to be paid for in blood on the backs of the black working class over the next generation.” Tucker warns of discontent “in the face of the reality of rising unemployment, reduced wages, growing squatter camps, lowered education outcomes and failing health systems.” He accuses the ANC of being “owned lock stock and barrel by the IMF and World Bank overlords” and of scoring an “own goal” in staging the World Cup and asks:

How does one reconcile the fact that some 28 million of our people live in the worst kind of squatter conditions imaginable? How does one reconcile the fact that some 28 million of our people do not have access to clean drinking water? How does one reconcile the fact that some 19 million of our people are still unemployed when we are fed the lie that our economy is stable and will weather the storms of the now evident global economic depression?

One thing is certain, whoever picks up the final bill – including those for subsequently underused stadiums and facilities – it won’t be Fifa. The sport’s governing body is in practice a transnational corporation. It will pocket the vast majority of the money raised by the sale of media rights and global sponsorship deals as well as some of the income from ticket sales.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
4 June 2010

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