World Cup 2010: South Africa needs this, now

Ticket sales for the World Cup have been sluggish. For the past several weeks there have been stories cropping up here and there reporting on organizer concerns about empty seats (read: lost revenue) and the possible causes and implications of the situation.

So why have ticket sales been slow for this world class sporting event?

Tickets were initially only available online so purchasers had to use a credit card.
This sales strategy may have suited international fans from Europe and the west just fine, but does not take into account some of the poorer local fans who may not have credit – or access to a computer. It’s a pretty massive oversight, and one that organizers should have planned for way earlier in the sales cycle.

Last Thursday, in the face of a half a million unsold tickets, FIFA opened up over-the-counter sales. As of Friday,  29 of the 64 matches were sold out according to FIFA. Looks like locals may have a seat in the stadium after all, but out of necessity rather than thoughtful planning.

Travel costs (like flights) to South Africa are high, making World Cup 2010 an unattainable pilgrimmage to any but the most dedicated and flush soccer fan.
South Africa is far away and expensive to get to. The Associated Press reported on Friday that fewer than 350,000 people are expected to make the trip. Initial estimates were for 450,000 visitors.

Europeans aren’t buying into the trip in the numbers expected – and their flight time is a mere 10 or 11 hours. Canadians and Americans are looking at journeys that span 2 travel days plus recovery time. For us, a trip to the World Cup is likely our only holiday for the year.

Safety concerns. Soccer/football is alchemy, but what will be created at this Cup? Africa has never hosted the event, and South Africa’s apartheid past hangs over the festivities.
It would be nice to think that the World Cup games will result in white cops hoisting black children clutching cups of Coke above their heads in brotherly triumph (for those who haven’t seen Invictus, it was, um… uneven). But the yin (unifying power of sport) has a yang (think soccer hoooligans), and South Africa is in turmoil. The thing is, it’s difficult to get an accurate reading of what is going on because the mainstream press doesn’t seem to be reporting on it much.

Make no mistake, though: big stuff is going down. According to an article titled “ANC orders ‘Kill the Boer’ ban” from April 7 in the Telegraph, an estimated 3,000 white farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994. Wait a minute. ‘Kill the Boer’? What’s all this about?

African National Congress youth  leader Julius Malema has been criticised for singing an apartheid-era song that includes the lyrics “Kill the Boer”. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and President Jacob Zuma “spoke with” Malema and told him to stop singing the song. ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu was quoted in the press “defending” Malema and asking for contextualisation of the song. Reuters Africa ran the story under the headline, “South Africa’s ANC defends ‘Kill the boer’ song“.

All of this is happening in the wake of the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche, historically a leader in South Africa’s Herstigte Nasionale Party van Suid-Afrikaa (a right-wing group that sought racial segregration, and adoption of Afrikaans as the only offical language of South Africa), and more recently a leader in the Afrikaner Resistance Movement. On April 3, 2010, Terre’Blanche was hacked and beaten to death at his farm, allegedly by two black workers.

No 1000-word article is going to get at the heart of an issue so entangled and inflammatory. If you’re interested in this issue, check out the print press, but don’t neglect to listen to the CBC podcast on racial tension in South Africa, originally aired April 12, 2010. It does a pretty good job of explaining the context of these events, and offers a more detailed picture of the racial divide that appears to be reopening in the political and social landscape of modern South Africa.

I find the politics of apartheid bewildering, but I come from Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world. During my time in South Africa my mind was repeatedly blown by the evidence and consequences of the country’s apartheid past. Rare was a conversation that did not find its way to race. The cultural consciousness is shaped by apartheid still, and these current events would indicate that peace is a long way off.

It will be a shame if the World Cup does not reach its audience because of these issues.
Soccer/football is enjoyed all across Africa, with teams from no less than 20 African countries competing this summer. The opportunity to celebrate the sport in South Africa makes sense. Though I don’t expect the beautiful game to unify a country divided, there are opportunities here for pride, respect, and camaraderie. South Africa needs this, now.

I spent my last few hours in South Africa in the company of a new Afrikaner friend who did me the great favour of giving me Knowledge in the Blood: Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past before I boarded the plane. Written by Jonathan Jansen, the first black Dean of Education at the University of Pretoria, the book is highly personal and meticulously-researched and -written. From the back cover:  “How is it that young Afrikaners, born at the time of Mandela’s release from prison, hold firm views about a past they never lived, rigid ideas about black people, and fatalistic thoughts abut the future?” By examining his personal experience at UP, Jansen provides insight into this snarled issue, and examines the impact felt in country and beyond South Africa’s borders. Recommended.

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