This week, the 2010 World Cup kicked off in South Africa. The biggest sporting event in the world, the monthlong slate of games is being hailed as the greatest thing to hit Johannesburg since democracy. Organizers have promised boosts in jobs and tourism, and promoters are convinced that this event will raise the profile and economic fortune of the country and continent. Viewers around the world, from every walk of life, are already spellbound by the matches; soccer truly is the global game, perhaps the most democratic game, as anyone with a ball (or rolled up banana leaves or knotted plastic bags) and some space can play. Â That simplicity and accessibility is probably what makes it so popular the world over.
With this in mind, how is the World Cup so dang anti-democratic?
I say the following with all seriousness: FIFA is evil. Â As much as we all love international soccer (and the videogames), there are no two ways around it. Â Nearly 10% of South Africans live on less than a dollar a day (as do a billion people worldwide), and almost half of the country’s non-white residents are unemployed. Â 25% of the country lives in shacks.
Still, South Africa jumped at the opportunity to spend nearly $10 billion on infrastructure development for the Cup. Â No expense was spared. Â Even Nelspruit, with its booming population of some 21,000 people, received a stadium. Â Good thing, too, because it will probably NEVER be used again. Â Plus, it only cost a tidy $100 million.
My critics will say this exorbitant spending spree was just an investment, and that returns will far surpass the costs. Â For them, I have two words: not true. Â This has not been the case in any modern sporting mega-event. Â Not Beijing, not Athens, not Germany, not Japan/South Korea, not anywhere. Â These super-sized extravaganzas do only one thing, and it’s what they’re designed to do: take money from citizens and give it to politicians and businessmen (and FIFA or the IOC).
That’s why we’re seeing protests like the one yesterday in Durban. Â Not to be confused, these protestors were security guards working for FIFA. Â That’s right, the people who are supposedly benefiting from the first World Cup in South Africa are actually barely getting paid. Â And along with not getting paid, they’ll be out of a job in a month.
So congratulations to South Africa’s ANC government. Â Once again, you have let down the people that gave you power, the ones who needed you most of all in the intervening years since Apartheid. Â And in doing so, you’ve done the impossible: made people rue for the days of all-white rule. Â That truly is quite the accomplishment.
How does this all connect to Israel? Â It doesn’t. Â But, here’s a truly awful idea that brings it all together…
Sam Melamed is a Masa participant, participating in Career Israel, one of Masa Israel‘s 160 programs.