By Nicole C. Lee –
I turned the television on one day this week and watched the news. The World Cup in South Africa was the 5th story. Amazing how a sports story crept in right behind the BP spill in the Gulf. I turned to a sports network and the World Cup was the only story. Each story was filled with joy and laughter and great anticipation of the coming games. The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world. It is like the NFL’s Super Bowl but much, bigger and on a larger global scale. Futbol has taken the world by storm and all eyes are now on South Africa.
This marks the first time the games are being played on the African continent. This marks a remarkable opportunity for Africa in general and South Africa in particular to show the power and the beauty of the African people and what is possible there. Vendors from all over South Africa have converged on the convening cities. Entrepreneurs hope the games will bring big profit to them and their communities.
South Africa has the same hope. Like most countries in the world South Africa is struggling financially. Poverty, high unemployment, troubles with neighboring countries, and the affects of the global economic downturn has crippled South Africa as it has nations all over the world. The World Cup is seen as a potential economic boom for the country. But history proves that great countries and cities in the past have been saddled with enormous debt after hosting great sporting events and not buoyed by the potential cash flow left behind after the games.
Economists are now saying that the 2004 Olympics in Greece contributed to the complete economic meltdown the country is suffering today. The cost to the tiny nation was $1.2 billion dollars. Stadiums and sports venues were built that now sit idle. The government of Greece says the economic short fall is too big to be blamed on the Olympics but others claim the Olympics were just the beginning of very poor spending and financing trend for Greece. In the United States, Los Angeles and Atlanta hosted Olympic Games. When all of the costs were tallied both cities lost money and no lasting jobs were created.
So why did South Africa want the World Cup? Prestige. World recognition. And the hope of a continent. The slogan for the games is “It’s Possible”. There is a hope that a world sporting event will create a public relations campaign that will lift the country out of despair. The images of Africans in power and rejoicing can be a great counter balance to the constant barrage of images of death and starvation. South Africa has been that shining beacon of hope as it defeated apartheid and grew into a strong democracy. The universal joy that is felt around the world as Africa hosts the world’s biggest sport is infectious.
With all sincerity and support, I am keeping my fingers crossed for South Africa and the continent. I hold open the hope for a huge profit for the nation after the games—monetarily and good will. . I am hoping that the public relations rewards after the games will generate millions of dollars and years of good will that will lift the continent out of poverty and dismay. I am wishing that the thrill of Futbol will garner support for the treatment of AIDS and the ending of continental wide war. I am in support of sports being the factor that brings people together for a lasting peace. The World Cup is in South Africa. Viva the World Cup. Viva South Africa and the continent.
Nicole C. Lee is the president of TransAfrica Forum.