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It’s the World Cup, So Why the Empty Seats?

FIFA questions about half empty terraces

It’s easy to blame a government riddled with corruption and heaped with problems-this has been the case this summer as all eyes are on South Africa and the turmoil that Jacob Zuma has the country in.

Poverty in South Africa has risen since 2005-so has unemployment. While the government has invested millions into ensuring gleaming new stadiums and health services are in place to safeguard visiting fans with money to spend, the people most in need have been forgotten.

Local people for example will not be allowed to tout their locally made goods near the stadiums. There is a ten mile radius around the stadiums that they will not be allowed to breach.

The problems South Africa faces become magnified through the lens of the World Cup. But are the problems the country faces solely down to the SA government?

With Zuma’s premiership, we see corrupt officials, a bloated civil service, and a failure in dealing with the aids epidemic. All this is a far cry from the liberating days of Nelson Mandela taking centre stage in post apartheid, freely elected South Africa.

But we must look at the bigger picture and acknowledge the context in which we make any criticisms.

Be prepared to read endless critiques of Zuma and his government. But things are not as clear cut as some will make out.

Problems existed in SA before 1994. They will be passed on to the next government. While unemployment has risen since 1994, the GDP of the country has also risen. So where is the money going?

Many argue that after the elections in 1994 which brought Mandela to power, the ANC made promises that it simply could not keep. But a large part of this is surely due to the legacy of apartheid that the ANC inherited? The inability of the ANC to deliver was reflected in a low voter turnout in the 1999 elections.

But the time that the ANC has been in power is a mere blip compared to hundreds of years of colonial rule and the suffering under apartheid that South Africa has endured.

When the media pin all the blame on the government we must remember that corruption, and big business interests from abroad are as much determining factors in the social, economic, and political landscape of the country as Zuma’s government is.

But there is now a further twist to add to the political context of the World Cup. The hypocrisy of the South African government which has been steadfastly supported by the economic interests of other nations has now manifested itself in the form of empty seats at games.

While the South African Government insisted along with FIFA that tickets would be made accessible to ordinary Africans, and the government said they would happily bus schoolchildren to the games rather than see empty seats-FIFA are not allowing the move to go ahead. In shocking contrast BBC and ITV hospitality packages see the allocation of over twenty tickets per game per head to television presenters, their friends and families

It’s clear that President Zuma is keen to tickle the tummies of foreigners with money to spend, and to appease big businesses, resulting in ordinary Africans becoming disenfranchised.

$3 billion has been spent by the South African government into hosting the World Cup. Estimated attendances at matches so far have been down. While FIFA says sales are good, scores of empty seats have been clear for all to see.

A week into the tournament FIFA claims things are not as bad as they seem. Official spokesperson Nicolas Maingot speaking on the numbers commented:

“You need to look at the bigger picture. We now have the second-highest attendance average since the USA in 1994. Of course, it’s not nice to see empty seats at stadiums and especially at a World Cup.”

Football author Steve Bloomfield spoke of the problem and noted:

“FIFA likes to talk about this being Africa’s cup, but they have done very little to encourage Africans to come. It would have been relatively straightforward to sell a few thousand tickets for each Ghana match over the counter at a bank in Accra.”

Whatever the reasons for the empty seats the only people in danger of not benefiting from the World Cup are South Africans themselves-even if they lift the trophy.

By Richard Sudan

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