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When the fans go home…

When the fans go home…

This year’s World Cup will be the most expensive in history, but who will benefit? Can South Africa capitalize on their multi-billion dollar football games?

June 1, 2010 7:20 by

When FIFA announced earlier this month it would contribute an extra $100 million to ensure an on-time World Cup, opponents questioned the wisdom of pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into efforts to host a sporting event in a nation where festering shanty towns persist. While this World Cup is expected to generate more revenue than any prior event, it has also been one of the most expensive competitions to stage. FIFA has coughed up more than a billion dollars, and South Africa has paid out an estimated $5 billion, the BBC said.

Enthusiasm is running high that the event will somehow mark a turning point for the country and the region. But despite optimistic talk by former South African president Thabo Mbeki  – that this year’s World Cup would be a singular moment when the continent “turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict” – level-headed common sense suggests an important opportunity is at hand, not a magic bullet.

Sporting events, no matter how grand or expensive or profitable, do not obliterate the enduring challenges that remain for South Africa’s government and others in the region. Abuse of power, ethnic hatred,  HIV devastation, drugs, crime, crushing poverty – these will not be reversed by better football fields, upgraded infrastructure, or a boost to tourism.

From a practical perspective, however, South Africa is certainly poised to recognize a financial and social benefit from their hour in the global spotlight. How they capitalize on the opportunity is the biggest variable. The hundreds of millions of dollars invested in a South Africa-hosted event offer the greatest payback to the degree that they change perceptions and raise awareness – both of which can contribute to the development of a legacy.

The event offers the chance for millions to support the efforts of 1Goal – FIFA’s initiative to ensure that the world’s poorest children have access to education. And accountants predict the event will infuse the country’s economy with an boost of around 0.5 percent – “that is quite a chunk of the country’s forecast 3% rate for the year,”  the Economist said.

The opportunity to showcase the country to tourists, benefit from revamped stadiums, roads, and public transport links is indeed valuable. New roadways, rail services, and bus networks have been constructed, and upgraded airport terminals and hotels offer a promising opportunity for business and tourism. Upgrades to the nation’s communications and technology infrastructure have also been put in place for the event.

But like most things, the challenge will be in the follow-up – in capitalizing on the nation’s overhaul, to the benefit of business and society. The challenge will be to ensure that opportunities are seized. “The danger, however, is that South Africa will have spent billions of dollars on a 30-day advert for the country that quickly fades as the sporting world moves on,” the BBC said.

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