Proud men again
The stadium landscape is changing across South Africa; the construction machinery is now moving with less than 1,000 days to go before the kick-off for the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM. The catalyst for the acceleration was triggered by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
It is now more than three years since FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter stood in front of an expectant crowd at Zurich’s World Trade Center and declared South Africa to be the hosts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM.
Soon it will be less than 1,000 days before the kick-off of the tournament, the first of its kind on the African continent. It has taken a while to get the machinery moving but the cogs of construction are now chugging at full steam as the stadium landscape changes across the country and the venues are readied for the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM.
The catalyst for this acceleration came last year from Blatter. A throw-away line about his concern at the absence of the noise of “picks and Shovels” emanating from South Africa quickly caught local attention and brought a finite focus to the hosting task. Whether it was a calculated quote or not, it had a profound effect on galvanizing the large task ahead and now the cacophony of sound from construction sited around the country is resonating loudly.
From a second-floor window at the new SAFA House, built by FIFA as headquarters fro the South African Football Association, there is a clear view over the work at Soccer City. It is a veritable dust bowl as sand swirls through the air in the wake of giant trucks, cranes and front-end loaders pounding at the rich red earth. Even through the close windows, the repetitive thud of jack hammers sounds hypnotically like a hip-hop hit.
The cavernous venue will host both the opening game and the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM and is designed to be finished by October 2009. Its capacity will increase from some 76,000 to just under 100,000, making it among the biggest in the world. Danny Jordaan, Chief Executive Officer of the South Africa 2010 World Cup Local Organizing Committee, rests on the window sill and enthusiastically surveys the scene. “October might be the deadline date,” he asserts, “but this project will be finished at least a year before he World Cup kick-off.” There is a real buzz about the site, a real commitment to the project and a real energy to get it done ahead of time and done properly. The construction workers have taken ownership of the World Cup, they can see now what it is all about after years of taking and they are determined to make it work,” Jordaan adds.
“I’ve been down there to talk to them. Some of them haven’t had jobs for four years and now because of the World Cup they can again look after their families. They are able to be proud men again, to hold their heads up high.” The FIFA World Cup has brought similar relief to many across a country where as many as 40 per cent of the population do not have formal jobs.
While the football tournament will not immediately solve a massive unemployment problem, it has so many more tangible benefits than just fuelling a construction boom. The South African economy continues to grow and experts predict the boom will continue well past 2010. The FIFA World Cup TM has injected a major sense of confidence into the market at a time when other emerging economies are experiencing a topsy-turvy ride.
South Africa’s tourism industry is now the biggest on the continent, overtaking the Egyptians’, even though it is a long-haul destination. The country’s current balance account is positive, the national budget recorded a surplus and the tax man is ranking in record revenue. All over the buzz of excitement, as the clock counts down to 2010, is dominated by talk of the monetary benefits that will follow for South Africa and its citizens.
Perhaps lost amid all this anticipation is what the FIFA World Cup TM really offers South Africa, indeed the entire continent. Sure, the dollars, euros and Swiss francs are all vital, but even more important is the effect on the psyche of Africa and the confidence that hosting a tournament of the magnitude of the FIFA World Cup TM displays on a continent that, for so long, has been regarded as not much more than a large begging bowl. Africa, and its people, now have a chance to display a competency previously never expected of them. They are getting to display an efficiency and a sense of duty the rest of the world never believed they had. They are getting to show their independence. It is a rare opportunity for them to sit at the same table with the rest of the world as equal partners.
They are getting as it is the case with the workers at Soccer City, to walk with their heads held high.
This is the real value of the FIFA World Cup TM to South Africa – a value that cannot be measured in any currency.