After many years of planning and preparations, the 2010 FIFA World Cup (the world’s 2nd largest sporting event after the Olympic Games) kicked off at Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium on June 11. Despite being ranked a lowly 83rd in the world, and only being present due to automatic qualification as the host nation’s team, South Africa’s Bafana Bafana (“”the boys, the boys”) held Mexico (ranked 17th) to a respectable 1-1 draw, sending millions of supporters into a paroxysm of joy.
Given their low ranking, it will be seen as a creditable achievement if South Africa advances to the 2nd round. If they don’t advance, it will be the first time in the tournament’s 80 year history that the host nation’s team has failed at the first hurdle.
In a country with high unemployment and much poverty, some locals have queried the wisdom of hosting a costly spectacle like this, especially the construction of expensive stadiums which many fear will be seriously underused in the future. Personally I believe the economic positives outweigh the negatives. Massive government spending in the form of major projects – new stadiums, airports, road and rail upgrades – helped cushion South Africa from the worst effects of the global financial crisis 0f 2008/9; as well as leaving the country’s major cities with a much improved infrastructure.
One of the great expectations/ hopes for the future is a boost to tourism numbers. The tourism sector has become one of South Africa’s leading wealth providers, but there is still room for much growth. Apparently, every 7 tourists creates 1 permanent job and 2 temporary jobs (the average job-holder here supports about 5 people). Greatly increasing the number of overseas visitors is a key way of tackling South Africa’s unemployment challenge. Many people are deterred from visiting here due to fears about violent crime. The country does have an undeniably high crime rate BUT the vast majority of crime victims are South Africans living in poor neighbourhoods far from areas where travellers go.
Hopefully (and the tournament has only just started) crime incidents will be low and the vast majority of fans will return home, full of the praises of South African hospitality, accommodation, restaurants and travel links. In addition, the sight of gleaming new stadiums and first world cities on tv screens will dispel for many around the world the perenially gloomy image of Africa as a failed continent. We hope that the World Cup showcases South Africa as a tourism destination that works on many levels and is not to be missed – not just because of it’s legendary scenery and wildlife, but due to the high standards of cuisine, hotels and general infrastructure and the incredibly warm-hearted generosity of the majority of it’s people.
The tournament – the first to held on the African continent – runs until July 11.