Back in the States: Some observations before the tournament ends

I’ve returned to the U.S. and have joined the ranks of fans, watching from afar.  It’s interesting to have both perspectives; that of a fan completely immersed in the event where every corner reveals a reminder that the World Cup is happening all around you and that of a the casual spectator who has to catch scores on-line and game replays after work hours.  Both are fun, and while I’m a bit sad not to be in South Africa anymore I do think we were there for the best time.  The euphoria in the country around Bafana Bafana’s success was intoxicating and it was an amazing ride to be at all of their group games; we knew that the fire would burn a little less bright once they were knocked out.  But the games and the fun continue, particularly for fans of the remaining countries.

Now that I’ve had a little time to process; here are a few of my early thoughts on the impact of the games.

1. CSR initiatives by major sponsors (or other companies) were, disaapointingly non-existent. Cone Inc., one of the most influential cause-marketing firms around, mentioned this blog on their blog! I was honored of course, but the recognition was due to my tweeting about the lack of CSR or cause-marketing efforts in the country; not exactly what I was hoping for around the World Cup.  I think businesses missed out on a major opportunity to increase exposure and good will for their brand.  The first World Cup, hosted in Africa, was an opportunity for brands to get in front of billions of people, but also show consumers around the globe and in new markets around the African continent, that they cared about people.  FIFA’s Centres for Hope was the only visible example and had participation by a few of the major corporate sponsors, but it appeared to be more charity than strategic.  A missed opportunity in my opinion.

2. The near-term impact has benefited many, particularly the hospitality industry, but for the street-level entrepreneur, the economic boon has not been realized. We saw tons of street vendors, mostly guys, trying to sell their wares at busy intersections and highway off-ramps, all with the hope of making a few extra bucks from the World Cup.   A July 1, ESPN Soccernet article on street vendors hawking replica jerseys, vuvuzela,s country flags, and other tchotchkes highlighted the issue well.  The author writes

Shame (the surname of an interviewed vendor) had high hopes for this World Cup. But the World Cup has no place for him…The difficulty in converting the World Cup into cash threatens to taint the tournament’s legacy for the locals. “After the World Cup, us Africans must gain some benefit from it,” Mufandaedza (another intereviewed vendor) said. “I thought that if I tried to sell something, I can benefit something. As Africans in one’s life, this is the only golden opportunity to make money for us.

The author continues:

But for the vendors, this tournament has yielded little but disillusion. “We are very disappointed. Very, very disappointed,” said vendor Billy Banda, 23, in his deep voice. “We were chased out.”

For full article, click here:

3. But the long-term benefits might be very real.  I cite two benefits in particular; one economic and one social.

Firstly, South Africa hosted (and is still hosting) a world-class event; the stadiums were immaculate, the new infrastructure was functioning properly, the airports were impressive.  Security was a little more lax then expected, but everything went off without a hitch.  Hospitality was typically South African, meaning warm, welcoming, and without pretense.  Of course, there were areas for improvement such as the system of shepherding people out of the stadiums to the park-and-ride areas or the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  But putting on a world-class event, in a country that still suffers from a (generally) unfair reputation for being dangerous, will hopefully prove the doubters wrong and change a few opinions.  As South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was quoted in a Buanews article:

“Today, we have earned the reputation of a country that can actually deliver, and that is good for future growth,”

He added that the event had helped to bring an end to the Afro-pessimism that had dominated foreign media for years.

And after talking to many folks who had made this their first trip to South Africa, it was resoundingly clear that it wouldn’t be their last; if anything, that sentiment will be one of the longer-term economic benefits of the World Cup.

To see the full article, click here:

Secondly, the social impact was something I definitely didn’t anticipate.  South Africa is still a young democracy, where only 16 years have passed since the end of Apartheid.  And in a country where racial oppression is such a defining part of it’s recent history but post-racialism is what’s been touted since the end of Apartheid, it was sometimes difficult to parse between what was reality and what was idealism over the last decade or so.  But seeing people of every color get behind Bafana Bafana, the South African soccer team, and the national flag, was truly remarkable.  To see every car on the road flying some sort of South African paraphernalia was inspiring.  In a country where sport defined racial lines as much as color (rugby and cricket were for white South Africans; soccer for black South Africans) it was amazing to see people of every color supporting their soccer team.  One poignant moment was at the opening game, South Africa vs. Mexico.  An older white man and a guy who appeared to be in his late 20’s and who appeared to be the older man’s son were sitting in front of us.  The younger guy was enthusiastically explaining some of the rules of the game to his father and describing some of the players.  The older man had a wide-eyed look and a huge smile on his face.  This scene would not have taken place at a soccer game in South Africa even a few years ago.  And this is just one anecdotal example, but it seems that the World Cup truly has helped bring the country a little closer; brought the races, which still have their differences, a common reference point of understanding.  And hopefully, all of the young children, of all races, who came to the games and had a wonderful time, will carry that spirit of post-racialism and optimism into the future.

South African President, Jacob Zuma, summed this up well in a recent interview with FIFA:

It is for the first time in South Africa that we have seen this Rainbow Nation really coming together in a manner we have not witnessed before. For the first time, I have noticed that every South African is now flying our national flag. Everybody is just crazy about this tournament, both black and white. This tournament proved that sport is a tool for nation building.

For the full interview between FIFA and President Zuma, click here:

The tournament is still on; four countries remain.  Though, South Africa is not playing for the trophy, they are still the ones with the most to lose or gain from this tournament.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens after the final on July 11, once the question of “what now?” starts getting asked.  Look out for some guest posts from friends in South Africa who will be able to provide some perspective on the question of “what now?”

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