Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You can't eat a stadium

Whenever I turn on the radio, and the FIFA 2010 World Cup™ is being discussed, I am sure to hear someone with an opinion very similar to the title of this article.

At first glance, there is some validity to the concern. The argument goes, (or at least part of it) that one should not bother with luxuries and ‘nice-to-have’ items in our emerging economy. There are “too many poor people” they say. Their needs are for the basics, like housing, food, jobs, water and food. To expend 3 billion or more on a soccer stadium is almost like fiddling while Rome (or Cape Town, or Rustenburg!) is burning. It is, in fact, on the face of it, something quite close to obscene.

Well, it would be, if one took nothing else into consideration. Consider the journey we have come. There was a time, not too long ago, when there really was only one sport which was considered worth the government supporting. That sport was not football. It was Rugby. Rugby was the only game in town. And Rugby received billions from the government, in support. And so, if one stops to look around, it is not difficult to see that Rugby is fully resourced, and very well supported.

The fact that it is largely supported by whites is, of course, a consequence of the racializing of the game, which was something which was done quite consciously by the apartheid government, in its day. But it is very well resourced and very well supported, within an extremely narrow band. Broadening that band, is something which the game has not yet managed to achieve very well.

Soccer, on the other hand, has been up to this point, completely under-resourced. Even more than that, counter-racialised, scorned, belittled, ignored. But try as they might, it was never possible to obliterate. Soccer continued to be the game of choice for the masses of our people. And they played it on dusty streets, on sandy fields with makeshift goalposts, in schoolyards and even on slopes! Soccer, despite all the odds, continued to be the game which the majority enjoyed.

On a world scale, of course, soccer beats any other game hands down. Its popularity is vast and, as anyone who has had any dealings with the organisation will testify, FIFA operates more like a super government than a football organisation.

And so, given the opportunity of playing on this vast world canvas and to profile all the very best that Africa can offer, how could we have ignored the opportunity? How could we have folded our arms or sat on our hands when the chance to host the world’s biggest tournament came our way? And with it, the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in all sorts of ways, but perhaps most visibly, in the mighty stadia which the tournament will leave behind for our people to enjoy forever?

In Cape Town, there are two stadia which are directly a result of the tournament. Greenpoint – the most visible and the most extravagant – and Philippi, in a "township" outside the City of Cape Town - much more modest, but no less important.

The former is almost a symbol of us coming of age as a nation. Of putting our money where our collective mouth is. Of standing up and being counted in the world of nations. That grand stadium will be used, going forward, in a hundred different ways, giving pleasure to millions of people, not only on the televisions of Europe, South America, Asia – but here, in this our home. It will be a source of pride for us all. It will be the platform for us all to stand on, in the glare of the spotlight, and be proud of being who we are and what we represent. It will be a wonderful and lasting legacy for the people of the Western Cape in 20, 40, 50 years to come. A legacy from this generation, to our children and to theirs, to mention nothing at all of the significant jobs it is creating and the food that is being placed on tables because of them.

And Philippi stadium? That too will gain from the fervour and spirit of 2010. Just because of the 2010 tournament, that stadium in the middle of an extremely poor area, will enable those children as well, to play and to excel.

Sure, they can’t eat it, but the trick for us as a nation is going to be to ensure that they eat well enough, going forward, to play in it, and to shine! We are building tomorrow. And as someone said, a long time ago, people can’t live on bread alone.


  1. Don't forget about Athlone Stadium and the R10 billion public transport legacy.

  2. Interesting article. I share your perspective on making sure that the World Cup leaves a positive lasting legacy for the country. I write more about this my blog: please check out if interested - www.WorldCupCSR.wordpress.com