It’s always exciting to begin a new year – and, as a Londoner, 2012 is all the more auspicious, as the Olympics arrive in our fair city this summer. Billions of pounds of investment have gone into regenerating London’s East End rust-belt, transforming chemical-stained land into a gleaming athlete’s village.
But what’s going to be the long term benefit of these billions in investment? Critics see ex-Olympic venues to be expensive white-elephants, of little benefit to local communities. On a recent trip to Cape Town, I wanted to find out for myself if the financial injection from the 2010 Football World Cup (that’s soccer, to you non-Brits!) had transformed South African football- or if those billions had been in vain.
There’s no better way to figure things out than by having a chat with local people, so I signed up to a ‘backpackers vs locals’ football game, organised by my hostel.
Memories of being efficiently destroyed at beach-football by Brazilians in Rio hung at the front of my mind– and my fears were well-grounded, as our improvised 11-a-side squad of disparate travellers comprehensively failed to gel as a team.
Perhaps it was a clash of personalities – Steffan, a fiery German physio playing centre-right, seemed to have it in for our team-mate Leo, a laid back guy from Uruguay. A missed pass from one lead to exaggerated recriminations from the other. As their attention momentarily slipped, the more skilled-South African team darted past both to score the first of four (four!) humiliating goals during a shorter-match span of 45mins – truncated to allow our gasping side to cope with the South African heat.
Saving ourselves from absolute disgrace by securing one lone goal in the dying minutes- a flukey shot from Irish Jamie which lolloped gently past their napping keeper – our side bizarrely became more united in loss than we’d ever been when playing as a team. Chilling with a cold Castle Lager after the game, I grabbed the chance to chat with two of our South African adversaries about their feelings on the impact of the 2010 World Cup.
Both Ryan and Mark agreed that the 2010 extravaganza had been a PR triumph for South Africa. “Most people have little stereotypes of countries,” remarked Ryan, through a swig of beer. “I think, before 2010, foreigners thought of South Africa and thought of, well, violence and mugging. Nowadays, they’re more likely to remember positive images of the tournament. It’s been like the 1992 Olympics for Barcelona.”.
But what about the impact on jobs and the economy? And the legacy- are more South Africans now playing football? Ryan and Mark felt that 2010 has brought money and footballing passion to the country- but were vague when it came to examples. “Ajax CT have upped their game in the Cape Town stadium,” remarked Mark, referring to their home team’s move to the crowning stadium of the 2010 extravaganza. But it’s a high financial price to pay for a better local game of football.
I came away from my match sore, and less convinced about the economic boost for London after our Olympics this year. However, it can’t be argued that the games are a powerful magnet for international visitors. I can’t exactly pin down the reasons for my trip to Cape Town – after all, I could have popped to Tenerife for a bit of winter sun – but I started to wonder if, subconsciously at least, my own desire to visit had been influenced by the festive pictures on my TV screen those 18 months ago. I get the nagging feeling that the 2010 World Cup may have been a subtler success than anyone might realise.