World Cup fever sparks legacy debate

Nation building: The 2010 World Cup in South Africa brought all its citizens closer together.

Great competitions like the World Cup promise more than just incredible sport. For the host nation, there is meant to be national pride and economic stimulus. But do they always deliver?

As the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold. Once the World Cup party ends on July 13, and a single victorious nation is left triumphantly clutching the shining trophy, Brazil will have to answer one crucial question: Was hosting the World Cup worth it?

Organisers often claim that the tournament provides economic stimulus in two key ways: by boosting a country’s construction industry as the infrastructure of stadiums and transport links is built, and through the large numbers of visitors who pump money into a nation’s economy.

But some economists dispute these assumptions, arguing that the economic benefits of hosting the tournament are often overestimated and difficult to prove. Some host nations actually suffer a decline in visitors during a World Cup, the jobs created often disappear and some stadiums are abandoned once the World Cup circus rolls out of town.

There are other more glaring problems. During the tournament, only official World Cup sponsors have legal rights to sell food and drink inside the grounds, so spectators are limited to buying snacks from corporations like Coca-Cola and Burger King. This does little to boost local trade or introduce visitors to different cultures and cuisines.

But others say that the event is about more than just financial gain. South Africa’s 2010 World Cup transformed the country’s image from one often associated with apartheid and high crime rates to that of a strong, united nation.

It was also a chance for reconciliation. White South Africans streamed into Soweto, the black township once home to the apartheid resistance movement, to watch the final match, and a new anthem mixing ANC elements and the old apartheid anthem, was sung by both black and white.

Similar arguments were made when Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup. Many agree that it helped rebrand the recently-united nation once divided by politics and conflict. It also gave Germany one of the most modern football infrastructures in the world, earned its tourism industry an extra 300 million euros and yielded 50,000 new jobs.

A poisoned chalice?

Some argue that while rich nations may be able to cover the costs of hosting this expensive event, citizens of less wealthy nations often end up losing out. In South Africa, where millions of people do not have running water and where HIV rates are high, money that was lavished on the World Cup could have been better spent.

But others say social problems and poverty exist before and after the World Cup — the tournament is not the solution to any country’s problems. And developing nations can gain long-term benefits by showcasing what their country has to offer and by boosting national pride.

You Decide

  1. Does a World Cup deliver benefits to a nation?
  2. Would the world be better off without the World Cup, or worse?

Activities

  1. In groups, list the pros and cons of hosting a major sporting event like the World Cup or Olympics.
  2. Choose a previous World Cup and research its legacy. Deliver a brief presentation explaining whether you think it was good value for money or not.

Some People Say...

“Football has an impact on a nation’s psyche in a profound way.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I thought the World Cup was about football, not economics.
Of course the tournament is an exciting opportunity to watch countries battle it out and to see some of the world’s greatest players in action. But the World Cup is also much more than that, and behind every match ordinary people’s lives are being disrupted — sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
Why do countries choose to host these events?
Hosting global sporting events are usually very popular with the voting public, and they can be an opportunity for countries to show off their spending power and organisational skill. It can be a risky venture though — often those in charge of winning a bid are no longer in power by the time a tournament finally arrives, and budgets can vastly exceed original estimates.

Word Watch

Decline
During the 2002 Japan-South Korea World Cup, South Korea had over 56,000 fewer visitors than the previous year.
Jobs
Around 130,000 jobs were created for South Africa’s World Cup – but many of those were temporary ones in construction. And only half of Germany’s 50,000 World Cup jobs still existed a year after the tournament had ended.
Apartheid
A government enforced system of racial segregation that separated white from black South Africans between 1948 to 1991. Only white South Africans had the vote, and black South Africans were widely discriminated against.
ANC
The African National Congress is South Africa’s governing party. It was founded in 1912 with the aim of increasing the rights of black South Africans.
HIV
South Africa has the second-highest number of HIV/Aids patients in the world. The 2010 World Cup cost South Africa three times as much as it spent the same year on tackling the deadly virus.

Subjects

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