Even for those of us who love sport, the saccharine liberal puff that inevitably accompanies any major sporting event can be a little nauseating.
Once you realise that it’s not an insufficient quantity of football in the world that causes poverty, racism etc, and that these things cannot be magicked away by the unifying power of the beautiful game, you begin to begin to find statements like this one, accompanying FIFA’s “Win With Africa” campaign, very tiresome:
“The goal is to reach beyond football, because FIFA firmly believes its responsibilities extend outside the sphere of the sport itself. In fact, FIFA hopes:
• to use football’s potential for human and social development, the promotion of health, the development of communities and the promotion of peace, by supporting local organisations who work in these fields
• to ensure the entire African continent will benefit from the long-term effects of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa TM
• to send the whole world a positive message from Africa”
It’s just as well FIFA doesn’t specify which people in “the entire African continent” it hopes will benefit from the World Cup (trademarked, remember), because the Cape Town slum-dwellers who’ve been evicted in a nifty bit of social engineering to make the city look tidier before all the foreign fans arrived, are probably feeling that it’s only the city’s rich that are really benefiting.
Impoverished Cape Town residents from the 20,000-strong Joe Slovo slum have been forced into Tin Can Town, essentially a refugee camp for evicted slum-dwellers established as an allegedly temporary settlement in 2008.
Tin Can Town is plagued with crime and its gates are locked nightly, turning it into something not unlike a social detention centre.
Cape Town authorities plan to clear slums in order to build 600 new brick homes, but this initiative wouldn’t even make a dent in the massive housing crisis faced by Cape Town’s poorest residents.
When the South African government is shelling out £3 billion for the World Cup, including spending millions on a new stadium in Cape Town, it’s easy to see why residents of Tin Can Town might not quite feel like entering into the “festival of football” spirit.
The plight of Cape Town’s slum-dwellers is just one example; sporting events like the World Cup also mean misery for millions of other workers — the sweatshop workers in the Far East making kits and balls for poverty wages, or the construction workers risking death to build the stadia without basic health and safety regulations. The hyper-exploitation and anti-poor social engineering that lie just behind the World Cup’s paper-thin philanthropic veneer doesn’t make it morally reprehensible to enjoy the tournament, but it does show us that sport, as much as anything else, is locked into capitalist organisation within which profit comes first and people’s rights — even the most basic, such as the right to decent housing — don’t even register.