After the Circus
What was the legacy of the World Cup for South Africa?
We have three relics of the 2010 World Cup in the Alfred home. Our youngest son, Thomas, has his Zakumi duvet. He also still has his increasingly weather-beaten Panini sticker album. Finally we have a framed artwork of the family's ticket stubs: yellow for the family as fans, blue for me as a journalist. There are 14 in all, arranged in chronological order. We are proud of them in the way that families are proud of what they have witnessed and what they have experienced collectively. Of our World Cup relics, this is the one which visitors comment on most often.
Such are the relics, what of the memories? Mine gather around the high emotion of Siphiwe Tshabalala's opener against Mexico, the months of exquisite expectation leading to the competition itself, my fingers freezing to my keyboard one cold weekday night at Ellis Park when North Korea made life awkward by patrolling a thick defensive wall against Brazil with — dare I say it? — old-fashioned Communist rigour. I remember an appalling match report after the Australia versus Ghana game in Rustenburg, the amusing but slightly farcical ebb and flow of a Diego Maradona press conference, something potentially wild and bizarre always lurking off stage. I remember the late nights and the travel, the shitty meals, the endless queues, arriving early at the Germany versus Ghana game and looking out of the bus window thinking that there is nothing quite as beautifully empty as one of those bleached Highveld afternoons in winter.
Such is the shape of memory that there are millions of others besides, a quiet river of anecdote and individual and shared feeling. Two and a half years on, my abiding impression of the World Cup, though, is of an alien visitation, something strange and surreal. I am amazed at how little changed, at how little disruption there was, how, like an old-fashioned circus, the big top rolled into town, the elephants and the acrobats performed, the clowns juggled. Suddenly, after all the fun, it was over. The tent packed up and everyone looked miserable and deflated. The only evidence there was of anything exciting having happened was a patch of discoloured, flattened veld as the circus and its entourage disappeared over the horizon in the direction of Brazil.
Yet this isn't quite right, is it? We have a legacy of fine stadiums, with their best practice insistence on chic changing-rooms, good referees' and officials' facilities and billiard table pitches. We have the World Cup Trust fund (Fifa's contribution to South Africa from World Cup ticket sales) and the roll-out of approximately 50 artificial turf pitches across the country; we have a number of improved airports, part of the Gautrain link and some better roads, off-ramps and junctions than we once had.
We made friends and a few enemies but the World Cup wasn't the unmitigated disaster that some of the world's media were predicting. It was largely crime- and disaster-free, largely happy and peaceful. Why, with all these tangible improvements, all this concrete and steel, do things seem so unchanged? Why does it feel that the rewards are so intangible and difficult to quantify? Why the sense of slipperiness about legacy?
Some of the gloss has undoubtedly been taken off the event by the local newspapers' exposure of a massive match-fixing scandal involving the local football association (Safa) and a group of conmen led by the Singaporean Wilson Raj Perumal in the months immediately before the tournament. Just over a year ago my newspaper, the Sunday Times in Johannesburg, led a massive investigation into the scandal, the infiltration by Perumal's organisation, Football4U, of Safa, and the complete dereliction of duty and general tardiness he encountered. Four pre-World Cup friendlies were apparently fixed as Perumal's associates chose, paid and instructed the referees. A fifth match might have also been fixed, but minutes before Bafana's last World Cup friendly, against Denmark, the referee was changed in the tunnel. Steve Goddard, a slightly long-winded but essentially decent and honest Yorkshireman, was the Safa official who had his doubts from the very beginning about the fixtures. He made them known to his superiors and eventually to Chris Eaton, once Fifa's head of security. At time of writing — and despite the publication of a 500-page Fifa report into the fixed matches — Goddard is the only man to have lost his job at Safa. Those fingered by local media reports and the Fifa investigation have recently been re-instated, an act which does little to convince an already cynical public that the association is graft-free and as selfless as it likes to portray itself.
More germane, perhaps, has been the fact that although standards are inching upwards, there's no great improvement in local football, a dizzy fare high on tempo but usually low on possession and sophistication. The fans who came to the World Cup matches haven't come to local football and any sense that the excitement and dynamism of the World Cup would be transferred to the domestic game has long been lost. The stadiums are making a go of it, hosting everything from rugby matches to Christian extravaganzas. Still, Port Elizabeth has no Premier Soccer League (PSL) franchise and Cape Town's several PSL sides have turned their back on Cape Town Stadium for financial reasons. There is only just enough sport to keep some of the World Cup stadiums in the smaller centres like Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Polokwane and Nelspruit going. It's not easy to predict a problem-free future for any of them, despite the fact that the latter three have played a role in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Port Elizabeth doing so because the city council directed funds usually earmarked for essential services towards the stadium and the tournament.
Much of the slightly depressed post-World Cup feeling must also be down to the ossified structure of South African football. The organising committee for the 2010 tournament was a temporary body, with the situation before and after reverting back to the traditionally hostile one between the PSL, who are in charge of professional football in South Africa, and Safa, who control national teams and grassroots development. The two figures central in each camp — Irvin Khoza, chairman of the league, and Danny Jordaan, who still plays an influential behind-the-scenes role at Safa — are the local game's two most influential power brokers. The two have historically been real and imagined antagonists, Khoza pulling himself out of the mire of poverty in Alexandra, a township east of Johannesburg, by deeds good and nefarious. By contrast, Jordaan has taken a more respectable political road to the top via his home town, Port Elizabeth, and his involvement with the ANC. Khoza remains the most powerful man in South African football, while Jordaan's star has fallen dramatically since the World Cup. His proxies, such as the Safa president, Kirsten Nematandani, and the CEO, Dennis Mumble, are arguably as influential nowadays as he was in and before 2010, despite the fact that they have an internal investigation about the match-fixing scandal hanging over their heads.
The influence and reach of the two camps (and the fact that most in local football either line up in one camp or another, whether by conviction or association) has resulted in a kind of stalemate, a situation similar to the Cold War. Advances in the sport are not discussed on their merits, therefore, but on how they will impact upon and benefit the camp proposing the advances. The PSL is effectively a gentleman's club, with the club owners' making up the board of governors; Khoza is both owner of Orlando Pirates and league chairman, and as such he is precluded from making impartial decisions on what is best for the league. It's a corporate governance mire.
Safa's executive are forever attempting to storm the higher moral ground, reminding the public and the football community at large that they're elected officials with the game's best interests at heart. But the reinstatement of some of the banned officials before Safa's internal investigation into the pre-World Cup match-fixing scandal, leads one to wonder about their motivation and honesty.
Such negativity has undoubtedly been bad for football (it led to an acrimonious stand-off between the PSL and Safa about players' availability for the African qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics) and will continue to inform much of what passes for governance. The World Cup — and the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations — has also brought home just how scarred the current generation of footballers are by the legacy of apartheid and its attendant tragedies. Our national teams play without reservoirs of confidence and, by and large, play a callow, fragile game. Bafana's current inability to score a goal is bordering on the pathological. Muti men and witchdoctors have been consulted but you rather feel it will need more than chicken bones and donkey blood to find a world-class striker. The World Cup should have led to greater self-respect and belief from our players. It seems to have done the opposite: a demonstration that South Africa has a frighteningly long way to go if she is ever going to find herself regularly in the world's top twenty.
Interestingly, part of the magic key all South African football fans are looking for must involve the tens of thousands of expatriate Africans domiciled legally and illegally in the country. The Cup of Nations showed that there are healthy reserves of football-loving Africans sprinkled all over South Africa. Invariably they come from places with rich football traditions and, even if they don't play, they follow. A PSL side of decent expatriate Africans would do much for standards — and standards of interest — in the local game and prove, as Jordaan so often said before 2010, that South Africa's World Cup was dedicated to the continent itself.