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Amidst the piercing vuvezelas, zulu dancing, cries of Bafana Bafana (the boys), and general joy-ridden pandemonium, there is a growing resentment that lurks beneath the surface, masked by the bright, painted faces.

Despite the projected gross impact of R93 billion on the South African economy and the 695000 jobs created (http://www.southafrica.info/2010/worldcup-overview), such profit will line the pockets of government officials, advertising moguls, FIFA representatives, and business owners, whilst the 695000 will shuffle home on 11th July and wonder what the hell just happened. In their state of bewilderment, where and to whom will they direct their blame?

Who is actually to blame for these empty promises and who the people blame may differ, but it is the perceptions of the people that could have devastating effects for the political progress of a country already wracked with political instability, crippling poverty and inequality. The main question is whether the government is viewed as an actively deceitful party in the shattered hopes or merely the ignorant puppets dancing to the strategic pulls of FIFA’s hands?

The 2010 world cup was regaled in South Africa as a panacea to the problems of the poor, promising to; increase business opportunities, heighten tourism potential, and secure sponsorship and investment deals to ease impoverished situations. The ANC voiced the notion that the world cup would “spread confidence and prosperity across the entire continent’ (http://www.sa2010.gov.za/node/515). Instead, many feel economic gain has been diverted into the pockets of the government and the associated commerical giants. A torrent of distrust, and discontentment has gushed ferociously into the face of Zuma, his idea of a ‘proud legacy’ (www.fifa.com) has been thoroughly derailed.

Others overlook the government’s responsibility and instead blame FIFA for allowing the globalisation of football to dictate the unchallenged control they have had over the event. In a recent article ‘2010 World Cup: Africa’s turn or turning on Africa? A political economy of FIFA’s African adventure, (Soccer & Society, volume 11, issue 1 & 2, January 2010, by Patrick Bond), it was stated that ‘FIFA, rather than the host country, has the monopoly of television rights, advertising and stadium space’. FIFAs domination has rendered the government helpless, and prevented them from implementing their anticipated World Cup model, aimed at South African advancement. (Is it naïve to believe the government had these good intentions?) This view is supported by FIFA regulations that have gripped the country throughout the tournament, including suggestions of heavy FIFA censorship in national newspapers and unreasonable street trader regulations. Beatrice, a food trader who operated in the area surrounding Greenpoint Stadium was told to buy a portable kitchen and register with FIFA if she wanted to trade during the World Cup period. Unsurprisingly the costs of these regulations have left her no choice but to abandon the area and survive by other means ‘until all this nonsense is over’. The condemnation of FIFA as a corporate evil has exposed the weakness of the government. Those that hold FIFA responsible have not pardoned the government completely, blaming them for their pathetic vulnerability at the hands of an international multinational.

There is another idea that rather than taking a dictatorial role which ousted the government entirely, FIFA in fact manipulated the government into genuinely believing that the positive economical effects of the world cup would trickle down in a beautiful cascade of development? Whether people blame FIFA as a totalitarian actor or as a manipulative actor, it is the ANC who are receiving the brunt of the peoples’ dissatisfaction. Perhaps the ANC are innocent of intentionally deluding the public, but regardless, the people are finding them guilty of either unfathomable ignorance or alarming weakness.
Is it fair that the ANC is burdened by a political legacy that they had very little control in creating? As FIFA pump their meaty fists in the air celebrating the most commercially successful World Cup ever, the ANC are left to abate the bewildered public. I am not defending the government’s faults of overestimating gains and delivering sensationalized information, but FIFA are escaping the heartbroken eyes, the confused frowns and the discontented glares of the people. Is it fair for the ANC to be labeled the enemies, be faced with a legacy that threatens political progress, and have to unify an increasingly fragmented society, while FIFA flee in a state of merriment, having garnered corporate admiration as well as a 50% rise in income since the last World Cup (Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke, The Cape Times 4th June 2010)

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The people’s game or the opium of the masses? I am continually branded a hypocrite for enjoying the World Cup whilst still maintaining what can politely be deemed an aversion to capitalism. This slander is usually qualified under the assertion that ‘football is the most capitalist thing in the world’. Terry Eagleton recently posted an article on the Guardian’s Comment section claiming that “Nobody serious about political change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished”. But why? Is football that much of a distraction that it stops us all from realising the extent to which we are exploited? Would we all be in revolt were we not spending our time thinking about the next match? In reality, the idea abolition of football is in my opinion more unrealistic than the much more favourable prospect of the eradication of capitalism but for those serious about political change, their time would be much better spent thinking about how football can be utilised rather than abolished.

It is useless to ignore the actuality that capitalism has taken over and transformed the sport from what it was at its roots, the origins of many top teams were in the work places of its players. Woolwich Arsenal, for example, being the team of the munitions factory south of the Thames, Boca Juniors and River Plate, the two Argentinian giants started out as teams of the workers in the docklands area of Buenos Aires. What would those players think now? Early football was in fact criticised by some leftists at its outset, especially in South America, who did see it as a distraction for the workers from resistance to their working conditions (as if they didn’t deserve one!). Now the roots of the game are a distant memory, black and white photos and memorabilia while the modern professional game is full colour in (almost) every country in the world, a platform for people on every continent to be brought together or a platform for advertisers to simultaneously reach millions and millions of attentive viewers. An art form for people to admire and revel in, or something to be manipulated to squeeze as much money out of its loyal followers as possible.

It can’t be ignored, the players that are worshipped are paid too much. The directors who plough in the money are at the same time the bosses of the companies profiting from the fans labour. Shirts cost too much, tickets cost too much, the fans have no say, but their loyalty to their team in without question. Their season tickets will have paid for the stadium in the years they have followed, but the price is still going up. The revenue from the World Cup, the Premier League, La Liga, the Champions League individually will exceed the annual income of entire nations. The hosting of the World Cup in South Africa has displaced thousands of the countries’ poor and profited the rich and big business.

Modern professional football has turned into a money making machine, which has, in return for our love, taken our money, or worse.

But to say it should be abolished is a useless comment. It ignores the fact that divided in so many ways, we are brought together by football. It can be a platform for resistance, protest and importantly, solidarity. When fans demand more control in their club, they are demanding more control in a big part of their life, its a struggle against the bosses and a fight against those who want most of all to make money from them. We are not tricked into loving football, we love it because it is an art, it is the perfect blend of individual skill and teamwork. As another responder to Eagleton, David Zirin wrote, in his Comment piece we are as naturally drawn to it as we are to music, or dance. We can still admire the art and recognise the politics which mar it.

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The World Cup, which begins in 10 days or so in South Africa, represents a contradiction that runs right through both the sport of football and wider society – that of the national and the global. Club football is hypercapitalism par excellence; no other industry can claim to draw from such a global talent pool and to sell to such a global market, or to present such a multi-racial, multi-national product. Even the down sides of “modern football” – high ticket prices, astronomic wages, all-seater stadiums – are passed on to those who, globally speaking, can pay: the Third World, which watches European football with the same dedication as the First, is not adversely affected by issues that cause complaints in Europe, as they watch the games on television. The World Cup, however, is different. International football is a relic, a product of football’s Victorian origins, a final remnant of modernism in the first post-modern sport.

The World Cup carries enormous financial clout, but the association between football and commerce is not at all new. The game gained its international character because of the spread of British merchants across the globe; in Argentina, Italy, Brazil, Spain and almost anywhere else you care to mention, the first footballers, spurred by the Anglican triumvirate of spiritual, economic and physical wellbeing, took their British public school sports with them on their travels. They organised matches with the sons of the local elite, and football was simple enough for the watching poor to imitate; whereas cricket, tennis and rugby union, which they also played, required expensive equipment and knowledge of complicated rules, football only required a ball. Soon enough, the natives overtook the expats and, after the first World Cup in 1930, Uruguay emerged as champions. England, despite not having to qualify, felt the World Cup was beneath them, and refused to take part.

It is emblematic of the age that competition along national lines was organised. The first heyday of football as the global sport took place during a turbulant period – economic decline and class conflict on one hand, but also cultural revival and the height of the modernist art movement on the other. Football was a rare example of unity; a middle class public school game, co-opted by the working classes and made their own; and the World Cup allowed people of all backgrounds to come together beneath the national flag. The cultural aspects of the sport, too, have never been far away. The mystique that surrounds the British game is not just a result of activity on the field, but also the associations with pop music and terrace fashion. Even back in 1930, the posters that advertised the tournament show the heavy influence of prevailing art trends of the day.

Political considerations were at play as well; governments realised the power of football to bring out nationalist sentiments in the population: from 1938, when Fascist Italy hosted the World Cup, through the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, where football clubs were banned in occupied Germany because of fears that they would be used by Nazi sympathisers to rebuild, to the 1978 World Cup, where the military junta that ruled Argentina orchestrated a national hysteria that swept the team to victory and the army into the Falklands, the World Cup as a tool for propaganda is prodigious.

The relative isolation of nations, however, contributed to the tournament itself. When the Hungarian team destroyed England at Wembley in 1953, they did so playing a brand of football that had never been seen before. The idea that a team in the modern game could turn up without the opposition having watched DVDs of their games, intricately studied their systems and profiled their key players is anathema. The globalisation of football has lead to a situation where clubmates will face off for their national teams, and wil be more than familiar with their opponents – they will know their names, their tricks and they will all speak the same languages. Only England will go to South Africa with a team picked entirely from their own domestic league. Globalisation, it seems, has took all the unpredictablity from the World Cup.

It has also made the World Cup into, alongside the Olympic Games, the world’s only truly international sporting events. Much as baseball has the “World Series”, or cricket has a “World Cup”, they are only competed in by a select few nations, or, in the case of the World Series, only two. The strength of the World Cup is that it is almost irrelevant whether or not one’s nation is actually taking part in the tournament. Because of the club football system, most viewers will also have a club team that they follow, and thus will tune in to watch the players of that club play. Others will watch matches for the star players; to see the Messis, the Ronaldos, the Rooneys; their nationalities are subjugated to the international draw of their names. In short, the globalisation of the sport has removed an essence of what made the World Cup great: no longer can the casual observer hope to see the innovative and the unique, as any player with a new skill will already be known, and probably already playing in Europe, no longer is it necessary to support a nation in a tournament between nations, as one can merely follow the fortunes of a player who is already famous for their feats at club level.

However, the true joy of the World Cup still remains. In a sport which, more than any other, money can bring success, the World Cup still cannot be bought, as a club title can. It still has the ability to bring together the entire world for communal moments – despite being arranged around national lines, its appeal goes far beyond that. The Victorian values of healthy competition, fair play and the uniting power of sports are evidenced by the World Cup, and I, for one, cannot wait for June 9th – and my country aren’t even going to South Africa.

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