A World Cup primer for South Africa

June 9, 2010

Ah, the World Cup.

This is the point where I’m supposed to write something like, “Every four years the world comes together in an event that stops global production, and unifies cultures like never before,” or something similarly trite. But anyone who watches the World Cup—which is most of the world excluding vast swathes of the United States and Canada—knows that it is a beast that starts and stops wars, ruins careers, makes Christ-like heroes, enthralls criminals and entrepreneurs, and ignites the flame of desire in millions of children and young adults.

And, every four years, the beast morphs into some new type of creature, dependent upon where it calls “home”—United States, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Japan/Korea, France . . . and now South Africa. In the bidding for 2010, eventual winner South Africa was still considered a real gamble: rife with racial tension, possessing a high crime and murder rate (Johannesburg is one of the murder capitals of the world), economically unstable with a disparate proportion of the poor, and largely inaccessible to the middle classes of the world that want to fly and participate in the festivities.

But, in all honesty, that type of thinking is largely what put African Union countries in the back seat of world politics, and, dare I say it, racist tendencies from Euro- and Latin-centered soccer (or football, if you will). South Africa, it can be argued, has been defying conventional wisdom and naysayers. Even though 70,000 construction workers went on strike one year ago, the host cities of Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Polokwane, Rustenburg, and Nelspruit still completed or upgraded their stadiums that seat anywhere from 43,500 in Mbombela Stadium, to more than 91,000 in Soccer City, which will be filled to capacity in the first and final matches. The ticketing glitches have been fixed—originally most of the local populace didn’t have access to tickets, since they were sold exclusively online, and Internet access is not commonplace. Instead of seeing racial tensions rise, the country has been experiencing a racial and cultural renaissance of sorts. Although there are several problems on the horizon, we have several unique moments in history to look forward to. Here is a list of some things to look for, good or bad, that may define this World Cup and make it unique to South Africa:

1. Sex trafficking and AIDS – Prostitution exists at all World Cups, no matter the venue, but this year the world has made an unprecedented push to curb sex trafficking, since there is already a problem endemic to urban areas of South Africa like Cape Town. According to one report, an estimated 38,000 children each year are forced into prostitution in South Africa, and the World Cup is supposed to make that number grow exponentially. Additionally, AIDS rates are reported to be higher in South Africa than anywhere else in the continent—12% or 5.7 million out of 48 million people. Additionally, only 28% of AIDS patients were receiving anti-retroviral treatment.

2. The Vuvuzela – If you get annoyed at Korea’s “thundersticks,” England’s bawdy chants and songs, or Brazil’s drums, you may as well avoid the South African venues entirely, thanks to a relatively new invention called the vuvuzela, a plastic horn that, when played en masse, sounds like a deafening buzz. Collectively played, it has been measured at 140 decibels—louder than a jet engine. As reported on Smithsonianmag.com, “You can walk around with a pretty massive headache if you’re not wearing earplugs,” said John Nauright, professor of sports management at George Mason University. There are currently 600,000 more on order from the traditional maker of the horns. Read the rest of this entry »

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