Guest Post: Thoughts following the Confed Cup

My dear friend Adam Boros earlier provided a great post on the eve of the Confederations Cup, from his perspective as an American who has lived and worked in South Africa for the last 5 years.  The link to that earlier post can be found here:

Now he has graciously provided an article (and some pics) on his thoughts following the recently concluded Confederations Cup.  Thank you Adam!

Enjoy the post!


By Adam Boros

July 18, 2009

JOHANNESBURG – On June 28th, the fireworks went off, the confetti showers began and 50,000 people began filing out of Ellis Park following Brazil’s 3-2 defeat of the USA in the 2009 Confederation Cup final. Despite the heartbreak that I was suffering from my boys squandering a 2-0 halftime lead, it was impossible to leave the stadium feeling terrible. South Africa had just finished hosting a world class tournament. Full stop.

I have not taken the time to read media accounts of the tournament from the west, so I am not sure how much nay-saying and negativity made its way onto the pages of magazines, newspapers and websites around the world.. All I know is what I saw. And what I saw was simply great. Being here on the ground during the two weeks of the Confed was amazing. It was far from flawless – I think FIFA’s system of staging the tournament as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the big show (as it did in Germany 4 years ago) is extremely smart – but it was amazing. On this page, I’ll do my best to express the experiences and emotions (both positive and negative) that I had the privilege to be a part of.

Let me start with the vuvuzela. The trademark plastic horn, which is the central piece of South African football fandom, became highly controversial during the tournament. Many of the European players grumbled that it was distracting, while international broadcasters complained that it drowned out all of the ‘natural’ noise from the games. There is talk of banning the instrument in 2010, with a final decision to be made sometime in the coming months. This would be a travesty. When FIFA decided to bring the World Cup to South Africa, they agreed to bring South Africa to the world. And as several MTN billboards around the country note: “Africa is a noisy place… And you ain’t seen nothing yet!” (click here to see my entry about early advertising in South Africa around the world cup: The sharp blast that explodes out of the horn is South African football. I could not imagine a match without it, and like many, many fans here, I had long ago stopped noticing the vuvuzela sounds until the Confed controversy. If professional athletes cannot perform due to the ‘distraction’ of noise, they should simply stay home. This is South Africa. And this is a South African World Cup. Adjust accordingly.

That being said, there was cause for legitimate complaint in other spheres of the tournament. Transport and food were two that I personally found very frustrating. FIFA requires that fans (excluding VIPs, media and other special cases) do not drive directly to the stadium. Instead, transport to the stadium is handled via ‘park and ride’ stations around the city. You drive to a designated parking lot (usually at a mall), and then catch a free shuttle to the game. Getting to the stadium was exceptionally easy. Park and rides were set up all over the province, so fans could park their cars more than 100 kilometers from the stadium and still catch a free ride. Getting back from the stadiums, however, was a different story. Fans trickle into stadiums (even moreso in South Africa due to a tendency towards late arrival), but everyone leaves at the same time. It was during the exodus that organisers failed. I went to 6 matches in total:

  • · Match #1: I wandered around the streets of Joburg for 20 minutes (with thousands of other clueless fans) looking for the appropriate shuttle, being pointed in different directions by FIFA volunteers.
  • · Match #2: I ended up walking 5 kms back to my car because no shuttles arrived for at least 20 minutes and I got impatient.
  • · Matches #3-4: Some shuttles arrived, but not enough so groups of fans would mob them, and the only way to get on board was to shove, elbow and push your way in.
  • · Matches #5-6: I had to wait in a mass of approximately 2,000-4,000 people pushing forward while police attempted to keep the calm.

At the end of a match, the last thing you want is confusion and chaos. Especially when it is cold. (Note to travelers from abroad: South Africa in the June/July is cold. Temperatures often approach freezing during the nights and buildings are not designed to keep people warm. I wore a wool hat and gloves, as well as at least 3 layers to every night game.) I am not sure where the organisers are going wrong, but this is a major problem that needs attention.

Food was another challenge. For me, one of the best parts of attending a South African football match is the food. Both inside and outside of the stadium, people set up tents and sell ‘plates.’ These include your choice of a hunk of chicken, beef or wors (South Africa sausage), your choice of rice, pap (Southern Africa’s staple food) or dumplings (steamed, fluffy bread) and a bunch of sauces and side salads. A plate normally costs about R25 ($3) and is freaking good.

Unfortunately, FIFA has chased away all of these vendors. Due to (I am guessing) sponsorship considerations, there are no vendors allowed anywhere near the stadium. This on its own is a shame – and more should have been done to find a middle ground – but it is compounded by the fact that the food inside the stadiums is either non-existent or horrible. At two games I attended, there was no food available except for candy bars and bags of chips. At one of these games, we finally got our hands on a burger and it made cardboard taste like a delicacy. Really, really bad. We stopped buying at the stadium after that experience and instead smuggled our own goodies inside. (I think many people will resort to this strategy. One of the benefits of having the World Cup in a country like South Africa is that the people manning the gates are not nearly as strict as you might find in the west.)

Drinks at the stadium were less of a problem. There is the normal variety of juice and soft drinks, all charged at exorbitant prices. And there is even Budweiser. This is strange on two counts. First, beer is never sold at football matches in South Africa, a decision that was made following a deadly stampede at a game several years ago (although also an example of the still distorted racial situation in the country – beer is sold at rugby matches that are attended almost exclusively by whites). Second, Budweiser is nearly impossible to find in South Africa. This second point got me thinking about World Cup corporate sponsorships.

As with any major event, there are ‘official’ sponsors for the World Cup. These are McDonald’s, Castrol, Budweiser, Continental, Satyam and MTN. Strangely, only two of these six are readily known or even available in South Africa. Except for McDonald’s (which is everywhere) and MTN (which is the biggest cell phone company on the continent), the official sponsors are almost wholly unrecognizable to the average South African. I understand that this is a global event and there is LOTS of money to made, but this does not seem completely reasonable. Why is it that, generally speaking, the official sponsors have a tiny footprint in South Africa and seemingly invest very little in the country? The long-term economic impact of a mega-event such as the World Cup is debatable, but if FIFA partners with multinational corporations with little interest in the host country, the chances of such long-term benefit is certainly reduced. When hosting such prestigious events, especially in the developing world, organizers would do good to consider the national contributions of potential official sponsors before signing them up.

So there were some problems, as well as some discrepancies that probably deserve more attention. But in the end, the Confederation Cup was a huge success. The stadiums were beautiful. The matches were well-attended (despite some media reports to the contrary). Many of the teams commented on how well and professionally they were hosted. There were very few reports of criminal incidents. The games themselves were high quality and full of excitement. And when all was said and done Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, gave the country a 7.5 out of 10.

borosandfriendsBut perhaps the greatest achievement of the tournament is not something widely covered by the international media. This is because is an intimately national issue: unity. 15 years since the end of apartheid, South Africa is still a deeply divided country. This can be seen in every sphere of society, including sports. There are 3 major sports in South Africa. If one attends a cricket match, the crowd will be 75% white and 25% Indian. If one attends a rugby match, the crowd will be 99% white. If one attends a local football match, the crowd will be 99% black. In many countries with racial baggage, sports is one of the few parts of society that creates a bridge between otherwise divided people. In South Africa, sadly, this is rarely the case.

But the Confederation Cup was different.  I attended the semi-final between South Africa and Brazil a few nights before the final in Ellis Park. It was without a doubt the most amazing sporting event I have ever attended. The atmosphere was simply electric (to use a cliché that is 100% appropriate and accurate). The crowd was raucous, the vuvuzelas were blaring and thousands of South African flags were flying around the stadium. Brazil scored in the 88th minute to crush our hopes, but as I looked around the stadium all I could think was: “this is how South Africa could and should be.” White, black, Indian and coloured (multi-racial) South Africans filled the stadium, cheering side-by-side. If one wasn’t careful, you could forget all of the hatred, mistrust, fear and ignorance that so often frustrates the hell out of me in this country. And it was the same at every match. For 2 brief weeks, the Confederation Cup brought South Africa together. It allowed fellow citizens to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, sing Shosholoza and scream their heads off for the beautiful game.

As they are saying louder and louder these days: Woza 2010!


2 Responses

  1. Its always fun watching Football Match in South Africa

  2. […] } My dear friend Adam Boros has written some guest posts for this blog over the last year.  He has lived in Johannesburg for the last five years and has […]

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