World Cup benefits South Africa

“I have never experienced anything like this joyful multi-racial exuberance in my life. Even the inauguration of Nelson Mandela … in 1994 pales into insignificance,” said a letter to the Star newspaper from reader Farouk Laher, perhaps somewhat over-exuberantly.

Hosting the World Cup has provided South Africa with a lasting legacy of roads, major infrastructure and especially transport to townships isolated under apartheid, which would probably not have been built for decades without the World Cup deadline.

Another major impact is the rebranding of Africa with a likely significant impact on investment and tourism.

“The long term impact is very important not just for South Africa but perhaps even more so for Africa,” said Frans Cronje, deputy director of the South African Institute for Race Relations.

“Having hundreds of millions of people focused on South Africa, focused on the good bits, the stadiums, the football the infrastructure; they have seen it is not just a jungle out there but these guys have roads and highways an[SB10001424052748703580104575361200804480616]d electricity.”

The Wall Street Journal reports about the success of the event.

“The general view is that South Africa has done an excellent job in staging the World Cup. There have been far fewer, if any, issues than were expected,” said Michael Payne, former chief marketing officer of the International Olympic Committee. “The fact that they have proved they can do this will be a very good calling card to go after other events.”

Indeed, South Africa has been so encouraged by the response to the World Cup here that officials have set their sights on hosting the summer Olympics in 2020, possibly in the city of Durban. On Saturday, President Jacob Zuma met Jacques Rogge, who heads the International Olympic Committee.

“This has proved to the world that we are capable of hosting any international event. We have the resources and infrastructure,” Mr. Zuma said.

South Africa may have been the first World Cup host to be knocked out after the first round, but that doesn’t appear to have diminished interest in the event. Stadium attendance passed the three million mark with two games to be played, only the third time the World Cup has topped that figure, according to FIFA, the global soccer federation. (South Africa still lags behind U.S. in 1994 and Germany in 2006 for average attendance).

To be sure, the World Cup has[SB10001424052748703580104575361513106536120]n’t swept South Africa’s problems away. The country is burdened with a bulging underclass—unemployment hovers at 25%—and violent crime remains a threat. Meanwhile, labor unrest poses a constant threat to event planners. The country endured a transportation strike just before the World Cup and South Africa’s leading electricity supplier narrowly averted a work stoppage during the tournament.

And there have been a few significant organizational glitches for fans. A lack of public transportation caused massive traffic jams. On Wednesday, congestion at Durban’s new airport caused hundreds of people, including a handful of FIFA executives, to miss Spain’s semifinal 1-0 defeat of Germany. Stadium security workers also went on strike at four stadiums, prompting South Africa’s police to assume security duties.

Still, South Africa is winning important converts. It previously staged successful rugby and cricket championships, and stepped in to host last year’s popular Indian Premier League cricket tournament, after it was moved amid tensions during Indian elections. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said last week that if it can host a World Cup it can certainly organize the summer Olympics.

“Africa can be proud to have organized this World Cup. South Africa can be even prouder,” Mr. Blatter said during a briefing in Johannesburg Thursday.

As the first World Cup to be hosted by an African country, this has very much been the continent’s tournament. Many Africans have expressed hope that the continent as a whole will benefit from the mainly positive coverage of sport’s most-watched spectacle. After 2016, Africa will be the only continent not to have hosted an Olympic Games.

“This has given a major lift to African football, not just because South Africa hosted but because Ghana did so well,” said Neil Armstrong-Mortagbe, president of the Ghana supporters club and a consultant for the Ghana Football Association. Ghana was the only African team to reach the final group of eight.

Meanwhile, World Cup sponsors have used their presence in South Africa to target consumers from Cape Town to Cairo.

For Visa, which is also a top level Olympic sponsor, the move was part of efforts to open new markets in the developing world and in countries where the Olympic sports are far less popular than soccer such as in Africa, the Middle East and South America. In anticipation of the World Cup, Visa was able to get its cards accepted with 14,000 merchants and in 200 malls across South Africa. Visa signed an eight-year, $180 million deal to become FIFA’s exclusive world-wide banking partner in 2007.

“In an emerging market, you’re trying to build an acceptance type of infrastructure and an event like this helps accelerate that,” said Antonio Lucio, Visa’s chief marketing officer. “If the Olympics or the World Cup come to Africa, we’ll be there.”

For some major brands, there is an expectation by customers they will sponsor the world’s biggest sporting event and the business payoff is expected later. “The World Cup will come and go. The real test will be what happens after,” said Don Thompson, president of McDonald’s Corp., which has more than 130 restaurants in South Africa.

For many who associate Africa with war, poverty and AIDS, South Africa’s World Cup has shown another side to the continent. The country boasts a transparent democracy, a rich class of consumers and a nationwide network of roads.

The event also benefited the country economically.


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