Creating Hope: South Africa After the World Cup

by Anna Fogel

What promotes economic development in a city, or even a country? Can a soccer stadium revitalize a neighborhood? Can a soccer tournament help a city grow? What impact will the World Cup have on the growth of South Africa?

Most people agree that it is too soon to tell. There have been reports on the impact of preparing for the World Cup – since preparations began four years ago, they have contributed .5% and 2.2% to South African GDP and has created more than 300,000 jobs (2.7% contribution to employment, and some estimate job creation numbers as high as 700,000). There were articles about the economic impact on the GDP and the opportunities for small business owners and entrepreneurs, throughout the 9 host cities, in newspapers around the world. South Africa, and the 9 host cities, will benefit from the infrastructure projects such as improved highways and high-speed trains and foreign investment has increased. The social impact has been striking; as Thabo Mbeki said a few weeks ago, “This successful World Cup is a statement to ourselves that we have the capacity to change.” The 2010 World Cup involved 32 nations in 64 games and 10 new or renovated stadiums. There were many concerns leading up to the games, but South Africa successfully hosted the tournament with virtually no off-the-field issues (other than the debate over the vuvuzelas). While it won’t be clear for a while what the long-term impact of the World Cup is for South Africa and its cities, most agree that it had a strong social impact, bringing together a nation that has been divided for much of its history. As Mandela said in 1996, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

However, the country faces many challenges, including widespread poverty, high unemployment, which was more than 25% in 2010, and government debt now accounts for approximately 30% of GDP. High rates of crime and HIV/AIDS threaten the social stability of the country. Many raised objections to the cost of the tournament, and questioned whether the country could have spent the money more effectively on its people. Examples from around the world have shown that stadiums do not promote development in their surrounding neighborhoods. Rob Hughes, in the New York Times, asked the questions: Did crime just take a month long vacation? Or was reporting of it just less prevalent? And will the country be better off, worse off or just the same after the circus moves out?”

Credits: Image 1 of Children pursue the ball during a soccer game on June 23, 2009 in Erasmia, South Africa. from (Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images), available at Image 2 of Soccer City.


  1. South Africa, like the US and probably most other countries, is a fascinating land of contrast. I have been visiting, studying, and learning from the people of South Africa for 10 years now. We could ask similar questions about the building of stadiums in the US, for example. The US still has sharp social, economic, and class divisions, and in many ways, we mirror South Africa's history, though far less of their efforts at reconciliation. Having visited in the years before 2010, and most recently just before the World Cup commenced, I can see differences in the infrastructure and housing, for example, that were clearly spurred by the hosting of the World Cup. Perhaps they were able to do that because of what the WC brought to the country economically, and perhaps, it was only cosmetic cover-up. It is my understanding from my friends and colleagues (from all ethnic groups--black, mixed-race "coloured" and white) in South Africa that it was seen as a blessing and a major step to host the WC, and to have it come off as well as it did. It also came--as does any major event in any country--with major costs, and not just economically. In all the years I have been going there and visiting in the townships, the one thing that is said over and over to me is that they see education and employment as the road out of the past. That is the same thing my years of work in the US have taught me. Perhaps the question should be how does that happen? What does promote development in surrounding neighborhoods? There are communities in South Africa that are attempting to achieve that through social development models.

  2. Thanks for the post Anna. I just came across this interesting article ironically titled 'Bye South Africa, thanks for being had by us' that digs deep into Suzassippi's comment that the World Cup was perhaps a cosmetic cover up, raising strong arguments often used to critique the very politically popular approach of bringing events to cities in the name of 'development' and the excuse of revitalisation. The question is who actually benefits from such events which almost always unfold through urban entreprenurialism i.e. a market-based approach to restructure the urban environment.

    The 'Bye South Africa' article describes locals essentially as backdrops with the show run by Fifa and franchises; for example Cape Town wanted to revamp the existing Athlone Stadium, but Fifa did not approve as the area was too depressingly run down. It notes the one visibly thriving place was the white enclave of Sandton, supposedly the richest square mile in Africa.....As the article you cite notes Anna, examples from around the world in any case show that stadiums do not promote development in their surrounding neighbourhoods. My question is how can we (or can we?) ensure that such mega-events actually bring short- and long-term benefits towards people and places in the city that need it most, without the usual displacement and gentrification as outcomes?


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