Tuesday 13 July 2010

South Africa's World Cup legacy

As this will be my last World Cup post, I thought I'd look at what kind of impact and lasting legacy the tournament may have on South Africa.

Firstly I think the tournament has been a huge success. Ok, some of the football wasn't as exciting as we all hoped; but South Africa has still managed to defy many of the critics and cynics who said the country wouldn't be up to the task of holding the biggest sporting event in the world.

If there's one thing that South Africa's brought to this World Cup more than any other, it's been the wave of enthusiasm and joy at holding the event.
This is understandable. The country was reborn with the end of apartheid and the World Cup has really been the first opportunity to show the world a glimpse of the 'new' South Africa.

I'm one of those people that has a real passion for sport and I do believe that when used in the right way sport does have the power to change people's lives for the better.

I except that it's naive to pretend that a five week football competition is really going to cure decades of poverty and inequality, it clearly isn't. South Africa is still a hugely divided and complex country facing many social, political, and economic problems.

The argument you hear and we have the same discussion in this country with the London 2012 Olympics, is that the money could be better spent addressing more pressing issues.

The thing to remember, is that sport and politics are rarely separate from each other. If like me you want to be optimistic about things, then sport can make a positive difference, even if its only a very small one.

The cynical view is that the World Cup is a waste of money. A vanity project designed to be one big PR campaign to rebrand the country. An overblown and expensive event that really only benefits FIFA and certain political elites and other interested parties within the country.

If I was going to make a comparison then look at South Africa's World Cup and compare it to China's Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Although brilliantly managed, the 2008 Olympics was more about the Chinese Communist Party showing off to the rest of the world, rather than staging an event designed to uplift and leave a lasting legacy for the Chinese people.

In South Africa's case, I do feel that this World Cup is more about leaving a legacy that can help improve the country and the lives of its people, and yes it is a big public relations and rebranding exercise, but on this occasion what's wrong with that?

This rebranding doesn't just have to be for the rest of the world's benefit, it can also help South Africans look at themselves and their country in a different light.

If they can show they're capable of successfully holding the worlds biggest sporting event, why shouldn't they be able to use that same belief and confidence in tackling the countries many problems?

I've written in previous blogs that when I was growing up, there was never any good news that came out of South Africa. It seemed apartheid would go on forever, but it ended. We thought we'd never see Nelson Mandela released - but he was. Then we were told there would be a civil war between the races - it never happened.

South Africa has achieved so much already, and the World Cup is another important milestone and achievement. I'm still optimistic that the country is heading in the right direction, which the World Cup has helped to push along in its own unique way.

I thought I'd end with a great quote I read today, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu which sums up the positive impact of the World Cup.

When talking of his surprise at how so many people in South Africa from different backgrounds and races had united in a common cause during the World Cup, he said

'We have all talked about the rainbow nation,"...."But we are the caterpillar that has become the beautiful butterfly'

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