Musical Chairs

R.W. Johnson

Football Pallo Valmiina

The World Cup in South Africa is on the brink of chaos. Transport and electricity workers, realising the fabulous blackmail possibilities of tournament disruption, are either already on strike or threatening strikes during the event and other groups of workers are poised to emulate them. The state electricity company is so worried about the power supply that it is handing out warnings that it may cut power to many users in order to guarantee that the floodlights don’t go out on games. Householders have been told that they may need to switch off all appliances except their TVs (so that they can receive announcements of coming power outages). Sex workers have been making loud and angry declarations that security regulations are being invoked to cramp their trade. South Africa’s police chief has announced that he is hoping against hope that the US team will not get through the opening round since that will signal President Obama’s arrival and an enormous increase in the security load.

Meanwhile, major diplomatic problems are looming. At the opening game (South Africa v. Mexico) the VVIP area has space for only 120 people and the VIP area for 600, and the latter is shared 50-50 by Fifa and the Local Organising Committee. Joe Biden has booked 300 seats for his entourage in anticipation of Obama’s later arrival. On top of this South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, some time ago threw out an invitation to the 21 heads of state and their partners who attended his inauguration. Zuma himself has announced that he is bringing his three wives and his fiancée, while ex-presidents Mandela, Mbeki and their partners are expected to attend and to be placed next to the presidents of Mexico and Fifa.

What’s more, at the last African Union summit Zuma declared that this was not South Africa’s World Cup but Africa’s and that all African heads of state were welcome. It now emerges that 50 out of 52 are said to be coming plus their considerable retinues. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, may be among them, although there is a warrant out for his arrest from the International Criminal Court, and legally South Africa would be compelled to detain him. Another difficult case will be Robert Mugabe, since Biden and many others will wish to avoid having to meet the Zimbabwean president or shake his hand.

Huge numbers of cabinet members from across Africa also want to attend the junket. There will clearly not be room in the VVIP area or even the VIP area for all these VIPs and their extensive entourages. Worse, there is nowhere for them to stay since Fifa has already booked all the accommodation usually used for visiting heads of state. Currently, with enormous embarrassment, the South African government is trying to suggest to indignant African ambassadors that they should vacate their official residences so as to make room for their visiting presidents. But since all the top hotels are already booked up there’s nowhere for the ambassadors to go. On top of this Winnie Mandela is loudly demanding 25 VVIP tickets for herself and her entourage. Rich Mkhondo, a spokesman for the LOC admitted: ‘There is a huge demand for VVIP and VIP tickets for the opening and closing (ceremonies) but I cannot confirm the seating arrangements.’

All of which sits oddly with the fact that the expected number of foreign visitors for the Cup has been revised down from an initial 750,000 to 200,000, and huge numbers of game tickets are either being given away or sold at cut price. As one might always have expected, this is going to be an event for Africa’s elite and the rich in general. The soccer masses will watch TV, which is why Fifa will clean up £2.3 billion from TV rights. South Africans are beginning to wonder anxiously whether the huge expenditure necessary to host the Cup will have been worth it, but Fifa are already certain to be laughing all the way to the bank.


  • 25 May 2010 at 12:36pm
    Chris Larkin says:
    This World Cup should have the potential to do what the Rugby World Cup did for South africa in 1995. A unifying moment for a nation, perhaps even a continent, still beset with many of the same problems that it had some 15 years ago. Unfortunately as with so many large sporting events now, the power of sport to bring people together and create a platform on which a country can promote itself to a huge global audience is often pushed aside in favour of it's other powerful ability, that is to generate vast amounts of revenue. FIFA have once again shamelessly taken this oppurtunity and left very little else behind. They talk constantly about leaving a lasting legacy but unfortunately a few football schools and some new pitches is not much of a legacy considering the £2.3 billion that they will take home and the community schools, for example, that they had to demolish in the process. In spite of this I really hope that the tournament is a fantastic occasion and a great success. My other big wish however would be that FIFA take a look at what they have left behind before they go to Brazil in 2014 and ask themselves whether it is a legacy to be proud of. Unfortunately I fear i may be disappointed.

  • 25 May 2010 at 2:47pm
    cigar says:
    The "beautiful sport" has been corrupted by greed and glamour, by business cartels and the desire of their propagandist in the media to provide bread and circuses to the plebes (and make mountains of money off it). Any countries where the sport is popular should outlaw FIFA and fund another organization that would build the stadiums and subsidize the broadcasts. The rich and powerful should not be allowed within the premises, as the only sports they care about and are good at is making money and byzantine scheming. Abramoff, Berlusconi and his rotten ilk should be forced to take a crew cut on their investments, and every single sports team should be funded by their city, and accept only local players. Otherwise, the way things are going, we will have teams of mercenaries standing for corporate brands.

    • 25 May 2010 at 2:56pm
      cigar says: @ cigar
      Abramoff nyet, Abramovich...

  • 25 May 2010 at 3:25pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Sounds just like the I.O.C. shenanigans when it comes to choosing the next venue for the games. If you add in the costs of bodyguarding this whole unsavoury lot plus wives and girlfriends it comes to quite a sum of money. But it belongs to the Great Financial Implosion Era as the banks feed on the politicians' ignorance and make Billions.

  • 25 May 2010 at 10:11pm
    Martin says:
    Many of us have become completely disillusioned with the World Cup. the corruption, tender rigging, 'street cleaning' and concomitant forced relocations of traders and informal settlements, the control freakery and high-handedness of FIFA, etc.

    Read 'Player and Referee':

    • 26 May 2010 at 1:04pm
      Chris Larkin says: @ Martin
      The reports in that link Martin are indeed scandalous but sadly unsurprising. The overarching theme of FIFA's leadership under Sepp Blatter has been greed, greed and more greed. All of this from a man who criticised the Premier League for it's mountainous debt levels by saying

      "This is not a question where Fifa can intervene because it is economy, it is the responsibility of the national association members in Fifa to make sure their clubs are in good order."

      Well what about the responsibility to deliver a World Cup tournament that doesn't leave the host nation in "good order"? As Professor Denver Hendricks, director-general of the national department of sport and recreation between 2000 and 2006 rightly asked; why didn't FIFA and the South African government attempt to deliver:

      "a much more moderate World Cup, an African event … Remember, the initial estimate for the stadiums was something like R1,8 billion; I think we are closer to R18 billion now ... Did we invest that money wisely? If these buildings in the long run are going to cost you more money to maintain, shouldn’t we have built houses and factories and things like that, that could have had longer term benefits for our people and our country?"

      I think the answer has to be yes.

  • 27 May 2010 at 3:35pm
    JL says:
    Excellent post -- it also bears mentioning that the World Cup has led to worsening living conditions in South Africa, most alarmingly a rise in the rate of evictions.

    The campaigning NGO War on Want has built a map that gives an excellent overview of the situation in Cape Town -

  • 28 May 2010 at 1:05pm
    Imperialist says:
    "The World Cup in South Africa is on the brink of chaos." My, how dramatic.

    "South Africans are beginning to wonder anxiously whether the huge expenditure necessary to host the Cup will have been worth it..." Are they? There are the usual murmurings about spending money on schools instead of stadiums, but this is dinner party conversation not economics. (Usually by earnest white people with the vaguest theoretical idea of what sport is.)

    South Africa's economy remains fundamentally unfair, and the World Cup will profit the usual class of people. (British newspaper reports contrasting Sandton with Soweto neatly gloss over first world complicity. You think this is bad? If we allowed the unwashed masses to attend games, if we spent the cash on improving the infrastructure around Orlando Stadium instead of on new pitches and high defintion TV, you'd be exponentially more appalled. Not that we would have been granted the tournament in the first place.) But as far as instances of capitalistic exploitation go, this is one of the more awesome.

    I realise that blog posts are subject to relatively lax standards of fact checking, but the VVIP problem has been overhyped and there is nothing new or unforeseen about South African workers going on strike. The local organising committee and government are sophisticated (and ruthless) enough to deal with this stuff. Cash was apparently stolen from the Colombian team yesterday. That's more embarrassing, but hey, this is South Africa, stuff gets stolen.

    JL says that the tournament is making living conditions worse. This is not true. The poor remain as deprived and exploited as they always were. Affluent South Africans, black and white (though mainly white), need to start making genuine sacrifices. Fundamental economic reform is an urgent moral imperative. But oh my fucking God this is going to be an amazing World Cup.

  • 28 May 2010 at 3:05pm
    David Rose says:
    'Soccer masses'? Did Johnson write this in Baltimore? I think we should be told.

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