This year for South Africa is, above all, the occasion we host the World Cup. Expectations for the success of our own soccer team are miserably low, so – on the pitch at least – there is unlikely to be disappointment. Even a moderate showing will be greeted with relief, while a place in the quarter-finals would precipitate delirium.
Expectations for economic spins-offs that will flow from hosting the World Cup, however, are unrealistically high. Surveys show that these naive expectations rise higher and higher in directly inverse proportion to the actual likelihood of gaining any tangible benefit. It is the poor, the unemployed and those in neglected rural areas who have pinned huge hopes of seeing significant change to their lives as a result of this soccer jamboree.
The only guaranteed financial winner is FIFA, which as usual has been flexing its unpleasant, thuggish muscles – from stipulating advertising and merchandising rights to blatant attempts at press censorship. Negotiations have dragged on for more than a year in an attempt to change the draconian FIFA conditions for press accreditation. This includes one clause that grotesquely mimics a notorious old apartheid law: that the accredited journalist may not write anything that would bring FIFA into “disrepute”.
On the one hand, this is a clear violation of the South African constitution. On the other, it is something of a tautology, as FIFA constantly brings dire ill repute upon itself.
Oh dear, right away there goes any hope of my FIFA accreditation – and free tickets – as Tribune’s man in our brand new stadiums for the 2010 World Cup.
But FIFA’s antics are a form of global despotism. The very fact that the organisation would suggest such a disgraceful, draconian limit to press freedom brings FIFA into disrepute.
Finally, if it comes down to a legal contest between FIFA censorship and the sovereignty of our constitution, I have little doubt which would win: FIFA. But it won’t come to that. Last week, one of the media organisations trying to negotiate with FIFA over such outrageous press restrictions, the South African National Editors’ Forum, ruled out a challenge in our constitutional court. Too expensive, they said.
Of course, only FIFA has that kind of money.
The censorship regulation, as it now stands, would bar an accredited journalist from reporting any of the following: a nasty racial incident during a match, the sight of one team manager passing over a “bung” for their rivals to throw a match or snapping FIFA officials getting legless in a corporate hospitality box. Okay, ignore the last one, as it is probably so standard that it’s hardly news anymore.
But if FIFA were a country, it would probably rate as a tyrannical kleptocracy.
We have already had a sample of the kind of ragbag of clichés and stereotypes which visiting journalists are likely to churn out about South Africa for their World Cup “colour features”. With the terrorist attack earlier this month in the detached Angolan province of Cabinda, during the Africa Cup of Nations, we’ve heard lots about the threat this poses to the World Cup in faraway South Africa.
It’s like saying that every ETA attack in Spain means that the 2012 Olympics in London are clearly unsafe and should therefore be moved elsewhere immediately.
Cabinda is usually described as an oil-rich “enclave”, although it should properly be described as an “exclave”, as it is separated from Angola and sandwiched between the two Congos. However, it is presided over by Angola, which also siphons off most of its oil revenues.
Here, I should admit to a vested interest. As a guinea pig in a nationwide DNA survey a couple of years ago, my DNA sample revealed that of all those who had undergone a similar test, worldwide, the only match was, bizarrely, in… Cabinda.
Why remains a total mystery. This gene inheritance could be the end result of a slave transported to England or a sailor ancestor celebrating on a brief shore leave down the west coast of Africa. Even a forbearer who traded along that coast, perhaps for slaves?
I’ll probably never know. It does seem to reconfirm, though, that nothing in this world – not even in pigment-obsessed South Africa
– is ever entirely black or white.
My own hope for the World Cup is that, having defeated apartheid and rightly being proud of our progressive constitution, we do not supinely bend the knee to FIFA. Soccer is taking over the world, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the new colonialism. Yet already street children are being forcibly removed from the streets of Durban and dumped in outlying areas so that we can present a sanitised, happy face to the world.
If we only had the confidence to present ourselves as we really are, then – who knows? – maybe even our hapless soccer team could give us the lift off everyone craves.