South Africa pushes to make World Cup its own

South Africa pushes to make World Cup its own

The country has won easier access to tickets and to see their musicians in the Fifa opening concert

South Africa pushes to make World Cup its own

And with less than three weeks before the world’s most watched sporting event, only 36,000 of the almost 3 million tickets have been sold in Africa outside of South Africa itself, the host. On a continent whose people mostly live on the wrong side of the digital divide, tickets were mainly marketed online.

“This is not our World Cup,” explained Greg Fredericks, a senior manager for South Africa’s World Cup organising committee. He noted the dominant role of Fifa, soccer’s Zurich-based world governing body. “It is Fifa’s World Cup. We are just the organisers. We are the stage.”

That might have been the end of the story, except that this is South Africa, the country that ended a vicious system of racial segregation 16 years ago to create a noisy, fractious, vibrant democracy. Poking a finger in the eye of authority is part of the national DNA.

And so, South Africans have pushed back — to get easier access to tickets, to see their wealth of musicians included in the Fifa concert and to ensure that more World Cup souvenirs were made in South Africa. Along the way, they have won modest victories that will give the slickly marketed, corporate-branded, monthlong sports spectacular splashes of African authenticity.

“You’ve got citizens here who don’t sit back; they know their rights very well, and they fight for them,” said Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, who was himself a canny defensive player on a political prisoners’ soccer team during a decade of imprisonment on Robben Island.

The various levels of government here have spent about $5 billion on stunning stadiums and other World Cup investments, and holding the games is what Peter Alegi — a historian and author of ‘African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game’ — called “the climax of this long journey to globalise and democratise the games”.
Soccer is the fanatically followed sport of the black majority, and for almost three decades during the apartheid era South Africa under white minority rule was effectively kicked out of Fifa and barred from tournaments. Now that South Africa is about to find itself in the centre of world soccer, patriotic spirit is rising, with South African flags fluttering from people’s homes, stretched like stockings around rear-view mirrors and emblazoned on shirts.

So it was not surprising that many poor and working-class South Africans were outraged by how hard it was for them to buy World Cup tickets. Aggrieved fans who lacked credit cards and internet access called in to radio talk shows to vociferously complain to Danny Jordaan, who leads South Africa’s local organising committee, and he raised the issue with Fifa, Fredericks said. To use cash, fans had to apply for tickets by submitting a written application at a bank, a process many found costly and needlessly complicated.
Cosatu, the mighty trade union federation, warned that the audience for this historic African event could be mainly Americans, Europeans and white South Africans.

The cheapest World Cup tickets here in South Africa cost $18, and the lowest price in the rest of the world is $71 — large sums in Africa, the world’s poorest continent. In addition, South Africa’s tourism minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, told members of parliament on Tuesday that Fifa had made ‘a huge mistake’ in relying so heavily on internet sales.


The number of foreign tourists buying World Cup tickets will be down about a fifth from Grant Thornton’s original forecast, to 2,28,500, because of the recession; the perception that tickets, travel and accommodations were costly; and security concerns. But the firm’s estimate of how many Africans from outside South Africa will buy tickets plunged 77 per cent, to 11,300 people, with each visitor generally buying several tickets.

Jerome Valcke, Fifa’s secretary general, said in Johannesburg that ticket sales in Africa had been “a bit disappointing. The system we put in place was not perfect for South Africa and for Africa”. But, he also said, the high cost of flights between African countries had discouraged visitors.

Fifa ultimately recognised the problems, and tickets finally went on sale over the counter on April 15. Lines were so long that some likened them to those for South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994. Since then, 2,30,000 tickets have been sold over the counter — pushing total sales to over a million, more than in any other country. The United States is second, at 1,30,000 tickets sold.

Likewise, South Africans, proud of the region’s rich musical heritage, were furious about what they saw as a shortage of homegrown talent for Fifa’s opening musical extravaganza and Shakira’s selection for the Fifa anthem, hardly mollified that she was being accompanied by a South African band, Freshlyground.

“It’s like waking up in the morning and finding people in your backyard saying, ‘This is what we’re doing,’ without talking to the owner of the house,” said Oupa Lebogo, general secretary of the Creative Workers Union of South Africa.

SABC, the state-owned radio broadcaster, recently played Shakira singing lead vocals on the World Cup anthem and invited people to call in. “I want to express my disgust that Fifa has so much arrogance in how they trample on our dignity as Africans and insulting the talent and artistry of our music,” said a caller named Ernest from Goodwood. “What is wrong with our leaders that they allow this bullying by Europeans?”

Fifa officials replied that the tournament was a global event and that the music should feature “international artists with local South African elements.” But South African musicians and their union were not appeased and threatened Fifa with a huge rival concert to protest the event. They met with Jordaan, the head of the local organising committee. “He sat for hours and hours and hours with them, morning till late at night,” Fredericks said.

On May 4, when Fifa announced a final lineup of musicians, those newly added were predominantly South African. Hugh Masekela, the venerable trumpeter, the Mzansi Youth Choir, the Soweto Gospel Choir and Freshlyground will all take the stage at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on June 10 for a concert to be broadcast live worldwide.

But it is the vuvuzela, a cheap plastic horn, that may be the lasting South African symbol of the 2010 games, said Alegi, a scholar of soccer at Michigan State University. A stadium full of them make a racket so ear-splitting that the usual cheers and groans of the crowd are lost. And South African fans will undoubtedly be blowing their vuvuzelas, which are ubiquitous at South African soccer games, proudly, joyously, defiantly.

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