Government Games

As the soccer World Cup recedes from the collective memory it is worth reflecting on a few things. Certainly the tournament was not marred by as much crime as detractors predicted. It has been a success to host the world’s most popular sporting event in an African country. But in a country with rampant crime, ingrained poverty, and pandemic AIDS, was it sensible to spend this much money hosting a sports event?

In some ways hosting the World Cup is harder than hosting the Olympics. In the case of the World Cup you need multiple venues of international standard for a single sport. That’s why the World Cup is hosted by a country, not a city. No city in the world has enough soccer venues of the appropriate standard. The Soccercity stadium in Johannesburg is beautiful. The architecture is designed to be reminiscent of an African wooden sharing bowl. But why was so much money spent on it?

The media tend to report all the benefits claimed for the hosting of sporting events uncritically. They talk about the tourists who have flocked to South Africa, as though it is not already a country with a phenomenal natural environment and a good stock of world class hotels. No other country can accommodate as many tourists in hotels with the full range of western comforts inside, and African savannah outside. South Africa has been a major global tourist destination for years. Tens of thousands have gone specifically for the World Cup, but how many have decided not to go toSouth Africa this year specifically because the event is taking place? The only research this columnist has seen into net tourism from sporting events suggest that just as many people are put off from visiting a country by events such as the World Cup as travel specifically because of it. That said, many of those who skipped a wildlife vacation in South Africa this year may only have postponed their trip, while those who traveled for the soccer may never have considered South Africa otherwise. The calculations are complex, but the real benefits are likely to be small, if they exist at all.

As this columnist’s country gears up for the 2012 Olympics, the stupidity of it all seems so stark. In calculating the net benefits from expenditure on the Games, planners forgot to include the cost of security or that there would be VAT (sales tax) to pay on most of the bills. Building the facilities will undoubtedly overrun both time and cost estimates. The Games are to be hosted in London – a city which already attracts two thirds of the inward visitors to the UK, and simply can’t accommodate additional numbers. All the visitors will be replacement tourists, not additional ones. Furthermore the Games are to be in 2012, which would have been a bumper year for tourism anyway: it is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the sixtieth anniversary of her reign. For those tourists attracted by history and royal pageantry, this is a very special year, even without the Games.

In 1995, when South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup – a much smaller event – it was about nation building. Black and white South Africans could cheer for the same team for the first time. This year’s event is an expensive ego trip for politicians.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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