June 17, 2010

Rough week for South Africa, mega-profits for FIFA

Wednesday, on the 35th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, now commemorated as South African Youth Day, the country had a bit of a rough go of it, to say the least.  Not only did their beloved Bafana Bafana fall to Uruguay by an embarrassing 3-0 scoreline, but their team will be without their first-choice goalkeeper, Itumeleng Khune, for their next game (against France) after he was shown a straight red card in the 76th minute.  The loss means that the team needs something just short of a miracle to progress out of the group stage and make the second round.

The problems for South Africa, however, don't end there.  In Durban today, approximately three thousand South Africans showed up outside Moses Mabhida Stadium to protest the government's lucrative spending to stage the World Cup tournament.  With 40% of the country's population living on less than $2 per day, much of the criticism in the build up to the World Cup has centered on whether the South African government should have spent money, specifically, on stadiums that will become obsolete after the tournament ends.

The Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, for example, a 43,500-seat stadium built specifically for this month's tournament cost the nation's taxpayers about $140 million and will host just four World Cup matches.  That's a cost of about $35 million per game!  Known as the "Giraffe Stadium," there's no denying the beauty of the facility, but many of the residents in the surrounding areas (just a hundred yards in some cases) suffer from a lack of electricity, paved roads, proper housing, and clean water.

The orange trusses that support the roof of the Mbombela Stadium
were designed to look like giraffes.

The protest came just days after riot police in Durban used tear gas and rubber bullets to dissipate a protest by local security guards who claimed that they had been underpaid for their services.  According to the New York Times, the guards were promised about $200 per day for a 12-hour shift; instead, on their first day of work, they received just $27 for their workday in and around the Mabhida Stadium in Durban.  As a result of that protest on Monday, security guards in Durban and at other stadiums throughout South Africa have gone on labor strikes and forced FIFA to ask police to take over security at venues in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Port Elizabeth.

Adding to this already-volatile situation, earlier this week, South African energy officials asked their citizens to "reduce their consumption of electricity" to ensure the tournament does not face any energy disruption.  Even though each of the country's 8 World Cup stadiums have backup generators, there is still a concern that the country's union of energy workers could strike at the state-owned energy company responsible for producing most of the country's electricity.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter illustrating how much he cares about
South Africa's financial situation.  About yay-much.

At the end of the day, a consistent level of anger has been leveled at FIFA, soccer's governing body, which demanded the South African government spend upwards of $4.3 billion to build new facilities and the infrastructure required for hosting a tournament of this magnitude.  And while South Africa will struggle with the lingering financial issues of staging the tournament, FIFA is set to reap profits of up to $2.5 billion from the sale of broadcast rights, marketing, and tickets for the tournament.  The best part? As an officially-registered charity in Switzerland, FIFA will pay $0 in taxes on that profit.

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