Sport for a brighter tomorrow

As the dust settles in Soccer City and the world’s focus turns anow way from South Africa, the circumstances that surround the African nation are forgotten again. Indeed, a difficult life persists for South Africans beyond the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) spotlight.

Heavily diverse in culture and language, South Africa has struggled long and arduously for identity. Almost fifty years of racial inequality under apartheid laws has left a deep divide nearly impossible to disregard.

Even under the post-apartheid era, poverty levels remain unusually high and attempts to maintain discipline in financial policy to ensure growth have been negligible.
However, some like Eric Dienes, liaison officer for the United Nations (UN) office on sport for development and peace (UNOSDP), believe that sport has a large role to play in the development of nations like South Africa.

UNOSDP brings together actors like potential donors, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and UN agencies in an effort to promote development through the use of sport.
“Sport is used to increase school attendance, improve well-being, mental and physical fitness, empower girls and women, and raise awareness on and educate about environmental and health issues, just to name a few,” said Dienes.

The advent of popular sporting events such as the Olympic Games or the World Cup, have the ability to breed unprecedented advancements in development for nations such as South Africa. The unusual marriage of sport and development has yielded exceptional results in the past.
The time following the FIFA World Cup will serve as proof to the legacy that sporting events can leave behind.

Spending for development

Of many recent sporting events to date, it is an inescapable truth that host cities experience a boost to infrastructure. Beijing enjoyed great improvements to public transportation – including bus, train and subway lines – when preparing for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

While improvements to air quality in China seem to reflect medium-to long-term goals, recent environment-related improvements are highly commendable.

Four years before Beijing, Athenian citizens received a considerable improvement in the quality of life following their hosting of the Summer Olympic Games.

The average Athenian enjoyed cleaner streets, better public transportation and heightened urban development, all bolstered by state-of-the-art technology.

Barcelona enjoyed restoration projects that helped refurbish historic buildings following the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. Traffic density was reduced and valuable urban development projects were executed, all financed with money coming from the Olympic Games’ budget.
South Africa is no different. No expenses were spared to make the first World Cup on African soil a complete success.

Based upon old apartheid spatial planning, followed by years of underinvestment, the transportation system in South Africa has long remained a discounted issue. One of South Africa’s toughest challenges, logistically speaking, involved the issue of transportation. One of the problems experienced was the mobility of the approximately 3.1 million spectators around a country nearly three times the size of Germany.

As such, the South African government has injected capital into operations that would greatly ameliorate public transportation. Combining the efforts of three levels of government, improvements were seen on services including bus, rail systems, airports and even taxis.

The implementation of brand new systems including the Gautrain and the Bus Rapid Transit System, known simply as Rea Vaya to locals, has greatly improved daily life in and around Johannesburg.

The surplus of over 3 million foreigners travelling freely within South Africa presented a clear security risk that needed to be addressed. The South African government responded with the introduction of 40,000 brand new police officers, highly trained and accomplished at their time of deployment. The men and women hired under this operation will remain as permanent members of the force. Their wages were financed by stringent economic measures and federal tax compliance over the past six years in preparation for the World Cup.

In addition to a qualified police force, the South African government had also invested heavily in the judicial system, branded the Administration of Justice program. The objective of this project was intended to fast-track all legal cases from 2009 and 2010.

By doing this, the justice system is free to tend to cases that occurred during the FIFA World Cup, especially involving foreigners in South Africa.

The implementation of this project required the construction of 112 brand new courtrooms spread throughout all nine host cities. The new courtrooms deal with cases involving common thievery or vandalism right up to terrorist threat and murder.

Positions range from language interpreters, legal aid consultants, prosecutors, magistrates to general court room personnel. Following the World Cup, it is the government’s goal to capitalize on these new facilities to insure that all South Africans have access to immediate legal services.

“If the initial investments in infrastructure are carefully planned they can be sustainable,” said Laurier political science professor Alistair Edgar. “These are the critical building blocks for future growth.”

South Africa has also made considerations to help manage the influx of health and medical issues that will occur during the games. The government has pledged a strict commitment to provide the best quality health care program possible. In this fashion, public and private subsidies were made to bolster medical programs, hospitals, ambulance, first response and aero-medical services.

In coordination with medical personnel serving with the South African armed forces, a permanent installation has been assembled, dubbed the National Health Operations Centre.
Working closely with military health services, disease prevention systems have been devised and implemented for the World Cup, with the intention of operating for decades to come.

Human capital

As early as 2002, advertising campaigns have been launched to provide the foundation for a unified South Africa. The International Marketing Council of South Africa in collaboration with DraftFCB, a global advertising agency, has been the driving force behind initiatives to elevate patriotism and unity through their project, Brand SA.

It holds true that sporting events create opportunities where a set of genuine, honourable values can thrive. One may look to the World Cup that just passed to see the values of humanity, sportsmanship and altruism all come together across all cultures and ethnicities.

These values have the ability to conjure powerful emotional responses. From South Africa’s perspective, it is sufficient to generate enough human capital to begin a new great era of change. FIFA was simply the catalyst.

While many have been cynical as to the benefits of using brand power to help boost the morale of a divided nation, many of the benefits are clear. The World Cup has successfully resurrected a sense of nationalism in South Africa.

Richard Poplak explains in his article, South AfricaTM: Now What?, that “the minds behind BrandSA understand that it is the country’s human capital — the sheer energy of its people — that will tip things forward.”

Danny Jordaan, Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa fondly remembers “hav[ing] seen black and white side by side at fan parks and stadiums, when for many years these people were prohibited by law to sit together.”

While these may seem like modest victories, projects like these supported by the World Cup have “united our country” as South African President Jacob Zuma believes. Indeed, sporting events have a significant ability to bring together groups that otherwise have remained previously isolated.

This trend, exhibited in South Africa, has had successes in the past as well. In the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, the world bore witness to the distinct emphasis on Australian Aboriginal rights.

Generally marginalized, the Australian indigenous peoples became the cornerstone for the 2000 Olympic Games bid. Organizers used indigenous culture to help strengthen Australian identity. Beyond simply supporting tourism and local investment, incorporating ethnic groups helps challenge dominant social structures.

After Australia was successfully awarded the Olympic Games in 1993, aboriginal peoples were more broadly received. Previously barred from open forum, their voice carried much more weight than any other time in Australian history. Aboriginal Australians enjoyed greater representation in local and national government in addition to an influx in aboriginal sensitive legislation. Following the Games, former Prime Minister John Howard was integral in the implementation of programs that support child literacy and financial aid in indigenous communities.

Outside assistance

Immediately following the announcement of the World Cup in South Africa, the countryside overflowed with assistance from all over the world.

One of many projects includes the Mbekweni Community Sports Centre in the Western Cape. Sponsored by a British initiative Hope Through Action, the community centre was built to provide a safe, tolerant environment for all to enjoy a variety of athletics in organized leagues.

At a recent Youth Day, the community centre exceeded capacity as many all over the Western Cape came to enjoy the brand new soccer pitch, complete with changing rooms, sports workshops and 450 seats for spectators. The community centre doubles as a clinic, utilizing its side rooms to offer HIV testing facilities and counselling for community members on a volunteer basis.


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Todays Sports panel member, Damon Buffini, reports from South Africa


To the program co-ordinator of the Mbekweni Community Sports Centre, Kwezi Shumi, the centre “facilitates life and leadership skills training and implements fun and educational programs.”

“We want to increase the well-being and performance of the children and youth in our community in all aspects of their lives,” she added.

Grassroots development is also important for the non-governmental organization link textAfrican Impact, an organization that has opened several projects across the continent including one that involves teaching physical education to primary school students in a Cape Town township.

The project also works in conjunction with Project Fair Play, attempting to raise money for the installation of a grass soccer field at the school.

Manager of this Cape Town project is Valerie Bam, who explains that the physical education provided by African Impact volunteers for the children of the township is “not only good for the body but also for the brain – many of the children are not able to play freely in the streets as their parents come home late from work and townships can become dangerous.”

Bam acknowledges that South Africa is benefitting from the World Cup, though her involvement is much more grassroots, and she has witnessed the progress that can be made through sport amongst the kids she works with.

“[Sport] will improve skills development amongst the youngsters,” said Bam, “Sport is aimed to develop skills and make a meaningful difference, while improving a child’s physical wellbeing.”

It’s not just smaller grassroots NGOs that work towards promoting sport as a means to development; countless UN agencies promote development, peace and gender equality among other values through the use of sport.

The NGO Right To Play has operations in 23 countries stretching from Peru, to the African nations of Ghana and Ethiopia, all the way to China and Thailand. Their activities capitalize on sporting events to attain key development objectives involving children and youth, specifically with the Millennium Development Goals in mind.

Julia Myer, a development officer at Right to Play, said that “Right To Play creates an opportunity for the children to build friendships, find positive role models and learn more about health issues.”

“Working with major sporting events is a great opportunity to mobilize people together and a great tool for educating them of the sports and development model,” she concluded.

The successes of Right To Play have been marked by spreading peaceful communication, increasing school attendance and decreasing aggressive behaviour, all accredited to youth empowerment and community building.

“We have to continue to convince governments, UN agencies and civil society that sport is a worthwhile investment and a cost-efficient and flexible tool to support development and peace-building objectives,” expressed Dienes.

“Quite often sport is still seen as a luxury, but it is much more than just play. It holds a unique convening power and carries intrinsic values, such as respect for the rules and the opponent, team play etc., which can be harnessed and put at the service of positive social change,” continued Dienes.

City of God and beyond

Brazil is currently expected to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games and parallels have already begun to be drawn with this year’s World Cup preparations. The government has already earmarked approximately $10 billion thus far in programs to revitalize infrastructure, economy and social development.

“The World Cup goes far beyond a mere sporting event. It’s going to be an interesting tool to promote social transformation,” stated Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazilian Football Confederation.

From Right to Play to the United Nations, collaborations are becoming even more commonplace among organizations that work for sport and development in the lead-up to the next large sporting events.


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“We expect to work closely together with…partners including FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Special Adviser will visit Brazil in autumn to start these partnerships,” said Dienes.

Development programs have already begun to favourably affect Brazil’s host cities and beyond.

“Hopefully both of these will provide more incentives for strong government action in dealing with the social and economic demands that unaddressed could look badly on the world stage,” stated Laurier political science professor Andrea Brown.

Indeed, the federal government must concede. The next four to six years must be wholly dedicated to advancement if it is desired to attain the same level of quality witnessed in South Africa.

“Hosting [the World Cup] in 2014 certainly will bring the world’s attention back to Brazil; it’s a fascinating country and a dynamic population, and soccer has a huge following there.

If some of the investment can be directed towards addressing health and education and other issues facing the favelas [slums] around Rio, for example, that would be a major bonus,” said Edgar.

“It always is a temptation to politicize sports today, [like for example] tying 2014 investments to rainforest protection and carbon emissions,” continued Edgar, “But there are immediate and small-scale pragmatic investments in human health and welfare that can have real impacts on local populations.

For me, those would be priorities.”

The progress that has been made thus far in Athens, Spain, China, Australia, South Africa and in many nations around the world represents the undeniable connection between sport and development.

It is this connection that has inspired an endless degree of support to all aspects of society, whether it be on a large or small scale.

As the dust settles around soccer city, it is still too early to determine the full extent to which the FIFA world cup has benefited South Africa.

However, initial reports are optimistic. While there are still a lot of problems that persist in South Africa, this is certainly a new beginning. Citizens have been graced with a restored sense of confidence.

For now, as South Africa looks to the future, unity in diversity has never been stronger.

Total cost of previous sporting events

2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver: $1.76 billion

2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing: $40 billion

2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin: $2.2 billion

2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany: $2.4 billion

2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens: $11.9 billion

2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City: $2 billion

2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney: $6.6 billion

The South African budget: 2.4 billion

Improving transportation system: $1.25 billion

Stadium construction and renovation: $1.1 billion

Improving telecommunications: $210 million

New Police recruits: $92.9 million

Grass roots development programs: $47 million

Opening/ closing ceremonies: $20.9 million

Volunteer training: $3.4 million

Recreational events: $2.3 million

Additional information:

40,000 new police jobs

2100 new court room jobs

Stadium construction created 66,000 new jobs generating an additional $1 billion in wages.

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