It is known as ‘the beautiful game’, bringing joy to billions of people around the world, from the slums of Calcutta to the yachts of Saint-Tropez. The World Cup is its pièce de résistance…
“A little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” Diego Maradona (1986)
While football was introduced to South Africa a long time ago due to colonialism, apartheid prevented it from taking off professionally until relatively recent. There was major controversy throughout the first half of the 20th century over the country’s strict laws prohibiting racially mixed teams from entering competitive sports. This eventually led to their membership of FIFA being suspended from 1961 until 1992.
Eventually the country began to abolish their apartheid system, which led to a new multi-racial South African Football Association being formed. They were re-admitted to FIFA and the national team played their first game in two decades. They went on to qualify for both the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, getting knocked out at the group stages on both occasions.
When South Africa was chosen as the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup, many people laughed at the mere suggestion they could pull it off. Not only were they a developing country but they were also seen as suffering from widespread racism and poverty.
It was seen as a huge deal to the country and a significant milestone in their efforts to boost their post-apartheid economy. However, South Africa’s World Cup bid did not become the economic success it had promised to be. They predicted that 450,000 people would visit the country during the World Cup but only 310,000 fans turned up.
South Africa believes that this was largely due to negative media coverage they received from Britain and other European countries. Most of the criticism centred on the delays in improving infrastructure, transport and security.
There were also big concerns about outbreaks of violence preventing the smooth running of the tournament. Hosting such a popular world-wide event in one of the most dangerous countries in the world was seen as a big gamble. The country had problems with rape, racial violence and gang violence, all of which could run rife during the tournament.
This was not the case though, as the World Cup actually proved to reduce crime in the country. Reports showed that crime had fallen by as much as 70% in some parts of South Africa. The country’s courts were left unexpectedly idle for most of the tournament after only about 100 people were found guilty of crimes. A lot of these crimes were minor and the reduction has been put down to the visibility of increased police throughout the country.
After an investment of $4.5 billion they estimated a return of $900 million but in fact only made $513 million. Although this shows a significant short-term loss, the long-term benefits of hosting the World Cup could be huge. It was predicted that the World Cup will help bring an extra 1.5 million overseas visitors to the country between the end of the tournament and 2015.
They have since attracted more conventions and conferences such as; the International Sports Tourism Conference and the BMX World Championship. The upgrade in infrastructure has helped bring the country closer to the modern era, with much better road and transport structures in place.
They are also now more equipped to host events, with bigger stadiums, better accommodation, a new international airport and a larger police force. The event also brought something to the country that is usually rare, unity amongst its white and black citizens.
England may be the official home of football but in many people’s eyes Brazil is where the game’s true heart beats. Blessed with a passion for the game that is almost as important as life itself, Brazil has developed an intense obsession with the sport. For many of the nation’s poor, football is a way of escaping the hardships of the shanty towns.
It is by far the most popular sport in Brazil with the people often referring to their country as “o País do Futebol” translated to “the country of football.” Their passion for the game has led to their being over 10,000 Brazilians currently playing professional football throughout the world. It also ties hugely into the country’s culture with the kids often seen spending their days barefoot chasing a football through the streets.
Brazil is the only team to have qualified to play in every World Cup tournament. When the tournament comes around every four years there is huge excitement throughout the country. The people of Brazil put their lives on hold when the team are playing, with even banks closing early to allow their workers time to prepare themselves for the action.
For those unlucky enough to have to work, they are usually provided with somewhere to watch the games by their employers. Even Brazilian politics hasn’t been able to separate itself from football with a lot of ex-footballers being elected due to their popularity in the country; Bebeto and Romario being the most recent.
Brazil are also the most successful national team in the world, winning the World Cup a record five times in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. They are widely credited as introducing to the world, the modern day style of football. This can be put down to the fact the sport is treated as a religion in Brazil. Like other religions though, this can also lead to violence and fanatical behaviour. There was one incident last year that is a prime example of this.
A referee was attacked and beheaded during an amateur game in Brazil. The referee was attacked by fans in retaliation to him stabbing one of the players. The incident, which occurred in the Pius XII stadium, began when 20-year-old referee Octavio da Silva Cantanhede Jordan, sent off Josenir dos Santos Abreu, 30.
The player, who disagreed with the sending off, refused to leave the field and began insulting the referee. The referee, who was allegedly carrying a knife during the game, stabbed him.
Spectators reacted furiously to this and entered the pitch to enact their own brand of revenge. According to reports in Brazil, the referee was tied up and stoned to death. His body was then quartered (cut into 4 parts) with a scythe and his head decapitated. It is also alleged that his head was then impaled onto a stake and displayed in the middle of the pitch.
The player was taken to hospital but was later confirmed to have died from his injuries. A 27-year-old man was later arrested and police are still searching for two more suspects after statements from eyewitnesses.
World Cup Award
When it was announced that Brazil would be hosting the 2014 World Cup, there was a lot of negative reaction within the country. More than a million people took to the streets to protest over poor public services, corruption and the belief that the country cannot afford to host what will prove to be a very expensive event.
There is even a band of masked protesters known as the “black bloc” who have set about causing as much disruption as possible by performing acts such as mass occupations of shopping centres and the shutdown of a metro line in Sao Paulo. The dire state of the country’s healthcare and the amount of people living in poverty has led to the protests.
There has also been criticism of FIFA for awarding the tournament to a developing third world country in the first place, regardless of their standing in the game.
The awarding of the tournament to Brazil was very similar to that of South Africa in 2010. They are both developing countries suffering from huge problems with crime, racism, and poverty. The fact that South Africa suffered from the “World Cup effect” in the short-term at least, didn’t help convince the Brazilian population that staging the tournament was a good idea.
Another aspect that is similar to that of South Africa is the crime rate. Along with their African counterparts, Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The slums are well renowned for being controlled by drug gangs, who also regularly kidnap foreign visitors for ransom.
While there have been somewhat comical reports of criminals promising not to rob tourists during the tournament, security authorities in the country say they are keeping armed gangs, prostitution rings and drug traffickers under close scrutiny. The police though have been accused of over-the-top reactions in their desperation to prevent crime.
There have also been accusations of a clean-up operation by the Brazilian authorities, whereby hundreds of thousands of people who have the potential to commit crimes have been arrested.
Another issue has been the delays in stadium, airport and other construction projects. This led to FIFA president Sepp Blatter claiming that the Brazilian preparations are further behind than South Africa’s were at the same point in the run up to the tournament.
Regardless of what may happen when the World Cup kicks off this week, one thing is for sure, Brazil as a country will put on a wonderful show of flair, samba and culture. Never has there been such global excitement during the build-up to a World Cup.
Karl Graham, Pundit Arena.