GLOBAL JOURNALIST: Excitement builds over World Cup

Friday, June 11, 2010 | 10:27 a.m. CDT; updated 11:21 a.m. CDT, Sunday, August 8, 2010

Charles Davis, National Freedom of Information Coalition, Missouri School of Journalism: From the Netherlands to the Ivory Coast, people are gearing up all over the world for the 2010 World Cup that starts tomorrow. People will stop whatever they’re doing to watch the opening match of South Africa versus Mexico. Others will be lucky enough to watch it in person in Johannesburg where football enthusiasts are already blowing their vuvuzelas, or traditional South African trumpets. To prepare for the Cup, South Africans built and upgraded 10 state-of-the-art stadiums. Organizers projected the event will add about $2 billion to the economy and create thousands of jobs. That means a lot for a country with one of the highest chronic unemployment rates in the world. Although South Africa has the largest economy in the region, it faces huge challenges. In this post–apartheid era, the country still grapples with severe political corruption, racial inequity and one of the highest crime rates and HIV/AIDS rates in the world, with more than 40 percent of the people living below the poverty line. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said that the Cup has united his country. But will that unity last? Will the world move on from South Africa when the last game of the World Cup ends? What does the World Cup mean for the countries that compete, both the champions and the underdogs? With us today, we have Scarlett Cornelissen, professor of political science at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; Selay Kouassi, freelance writer, Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Sebastiaan Gottlieb, reporter, Radio Netherlands, Hilversum, the Netherlands; and Larry Rohter, author of "Brazil on the Rise" and former Rio de Janeiro bureau chief of The New York Times. Scarlett, what does it mean to South Africans for the World Cup to be held in their country?

Scarlett Cornelissen, professor of political science, University of Stellenbosch: It means a lot. I am in Johannesburg right now where one of the opening matches will be tomorrow. All over the country, there is a palpable feeling of excitement that is increasing.


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Davis: There has been a lot of conversation about the economic impact of the World Cup on the country. What is the sense on the street about whether that economic impact will last or how large it is?

Cornelissen: I think a lot of predictions are overestimates. You mentioned U.S. $2 billion in income on a macro scale. Over the years, a lot of those economic predictions have been revised upward and downward. People understand that a lot of the impact would only be at the top part of the economy — that it would be the big corporations that could make profits and not much of an expectation of a trickle-down effect of that money.

Davis: Selay, I understand that the Ivory Coast national team, The Elephants, has played a strong role in diffusing ethnic tensions in the Ivory Coast. Can you talk a bit about that and the importance of the football team to the nation?

Selay Kouassi, freelance writer, Abidjan, Ivory Coast: Yes, The Elephants played a big role in the reconciliation of the country. Captain Didier Drogba requested that the game in the 2008 African qualifying game be played in the foremost country of rebel forces and led the ex-warring factions to lay down arms. So they played a significant role in the reunification of the country.

Davis: Could you tell us a bit about your multimedia project, "The Road to 2010"?

Kouassi: It’s a twin initiative by World Press Photo and Free Voice and Africa Media Online. It is a prime opportunity for African journalists to show some of the very positive aspects of the continent to the whole world. The 2010 project focuses on strengthening the journalistic skills of African reporters in print, radio, television and photography.

Davis: Sebastiaan, what does soccer mean in the Netherlands as compared with other sports, and how do you think it ranks in the world pantheon of fandom?

Sebastiaan Gottlieb, reporter, Radio Netherlands, Hilversum, the Netherlands: Soccer is by far the most popular sport in Holland. We consider ourselves the challenger for two finals. We were in the finals twice and failed to win, but maybe this year we’ll be the winner. We have really talented footballers, but people think we lack the mentality to win the game. There are supposed to be 100,000 people calling in sick on Monday when they have the first game.

Davis: So it’s sort of understood that it is a blue Monday? Everybody is “sick.”

Gottlieb: I took off officially.

Davis: So you can feel morally pure in staying home and watching. Who is seen as the favorite, beyond of course the Netherlands? Who do you see as the teams to beat?

Gottlieb: I don’t know. People say Spain is a favorite, but of course Brazil and Argentina. The Netherlands has exceptionally talented footballers, especially strikers. Our defense is maybe not as good as our attacking players, but the general feeling is that we will finally win the final one time.

Davis: How much of that do you attribute to Ajax Amsterdam, if you could tell our listeners a bit about Ajax Amsterdam?

Gottlieb: Well, Ajax is the football club from Amsterdam, and it is also my club. We got famous because we won the year champion league three times and that was due to the world-famous player Johan Cruyff. He was the first one who put Ajax on the international map. The competition is getting tougher, which means the players are well-skilled. Lots of Dutch players are playing abroad in Milan, Madrid and Barcelona. They say we are good at football because we have such a small country and are used to using space efficiently. We manage to organize our little country really well, and that is what you see in managing the field.

Davis: And Ajax is a good example of the hyper-organized type of training that is revolutionizing the sport. You have people in a highly disciplined, highly organized training program that begins as young as grade school children.

Gottlieb: I wish I could say that is the case, but we lost the championship in Holland this year. It is not as big as it used to be, because it is all about money too. Ajax is not a rich club compared to Manchester United or Barcelona, so we can’t buy the most expensive players. The good players in Holland are all going abroad for enormous salaries. It’s incredible what those people earn. But we can’t offer that to them in Amsterdam and Ajax.

Davis: Larry Rohter, how does football shape Brazilian culture?

Larry Rohter, author of "Brazil on the Rise" and former Rio de Janeiro bureau chief of The New York Times: It is one of the foundations of Brazilian culture. Soccer terminology pervades the language of slang. You’ve got a president who is a passionate fan and often uses soccer metaphors when he gives political speeches. It’s a country of 200 million people, and everybody is a coach. I would not want to be Dunga. That would have to be one of the toughest jobs in the world. Everyone is second-guessing him, from the president down to the shoeshine guy. Coming in second is never satisfactory. This notion that Brazil is the best and has its honor to uphold creates a certain kind of angst because you can’t be second best; you’ve got to win every time. And I remember in 2002, going into the Cup, a lot of people in Brazil were saying, "Oh, this is not a good teamWe’re not going to win. Why didn’t they pick Romario?" And of course, Brazil won. 2006 was kind of the opposite. We had a great team and didn’t make it. So there is always this angst in a society that is essentially positive about things. So next month is going to be a period of great tension — and great excitement, too.

Davis: Larry, before we came on the air, I made the comparison of Brazil to the New York Yankees, and you said something I thought was pretty funny. You said they’re like the Yankees, except they’re much more likeable. Can you elaborate on that?

Rohter: One of the things you notice, especially if you’re wearing a Brazilian team shirt as you travel around the world: It’s almost as if Brazil is everybody’s second-favorite team. They root for their home, their national team, but once their team is eliminated, they tend to root for the Brazilians because of this notion of the beautiful game, the grace, panache and creativity with which Brazilians play soccer. This year may be a little different because people are saying, "Well the Spanish team is more like the Brazilian team with a lot of free-flowing creativity." This Brazilian team is kind of a dull one: the emphasis on tough defense, the only guy with any creativity is Kaka. This is not our kind of a team, but the world seems to like the swagger and sensuality with which Brazil has traditionally played.

Davis: Scarlett, can you give us a sense of the South African tableau here? South Africa still has obstacles to overcome. What does the nation hope is the lasting impact?

Cornelissen: It is useful to think of the impact of this World Cup in terms of three categories. First, the physical capacity — the various kinds of infrastructure that has been developed for the World Cup — the stadiums are all one thing, but a lot of roads have been upgraded or constructed, and airports and major ports were upgraded. The government spent something in the range of 400 billion rand. That is almost U.S. $40 billion in the past few years as part of a bigger investment package for not just the World Cup but also for infrastructure developments. The second legacy is the economic legacy, and this is a bit more difficult to assess. The official prediction is that the World Cup will create about 93 billion rand for the national government this year alone, which is close to U.S. $9 billion, more the $2 billion you mentioned in the introduction. But it depends on so many contingencies that you can’t really determine whether it would be a positive or a negative impact. Think about the fact that most hosts of World Cups or the Olympics have not really been able to deliver on the promises of positive macroeconomic impact. In certain instances, these events have actually made deficits after the event. I don’t think we will see a tangible economic positive legacy from this event. The third impact is probably the most important impact in South Africa, and that is in terms of the symbolic legacy of the World Cup. Hosting the World Cup well could give momentum to nation-building in a highly race- and class-polarized society where there is lots of crime and violence. It could also just give people a feeling of pride. This idea that Africans are showing to the world that they can achieve is something that is quite important. So these are the sorts of things that outsiders should be looking for when they look at Africa after July 12, after the games have come to an end.

Davis: It is incredibly high stakes for a football tournament, but that is what the World Cup has come to mean.

Cornelissen: I think the most important aspect of the World Cup is what it means to people in the face of poverty, deprivation and in an environment where the global economy has had certain consequences for people in Africa and South Africa.

Davis: In U.S. sporting news, the sort of pre–World Cup press has focused its attention on the contenders around the world. I’ve probably heard more mentions of the Ivory Coast in the American press in the last two weeks than I have heard in the last two years. Overall, that is a good trend, is it not?

Kouassi: The World Cup means a lot for Ivorians. Our country has been divided along ethnic and religious lines. And amazingly, the players of the national football camp squad come from every part of the country, but the team has never witnessed ethnic divisions. So the team has become something like an ethnic model for the whole country.

Davis: Sebastiaan, I have wanted to ask someone from the Netherlands this question forever. What is with the orange, and where did that come from?

Gottlieb: It is the surname of the royal family. I am really glad the world tournament is in South Africa. I really like to see the African teams play, but unfortunately, Ivory Coast has to play against the Netherlands. I really hope an African country will win this tournament because I think they deserve it. The way they play football is so nice and creative, different from the European or continental football. There is another remark I would like to make about the finance and the economy, because I just saw a documentary about FIFA: how they manage finance and economy and what a corrupt organization it is, how Mr. Blatter is a sort of dictator. He is bribing everybody to get the votes to elect him for another round. I was really shocked too that it is completely undemocratic and nontransparent and there is so much money going around. In this documentary, people were really questioning the figures that the countries say they earn with organizing the tournament. So after seeing this documentary, I became really critical about FIFA and what kind of organization it is. Do you know about this critique on FIFA? 

Davis: I haven’t seen the documentary, but I have seen and read some criticism of FIFA as a very nontransparent anti-democratic organization that hoards its money. Is there a sense that it is in need of reform?

Gottlieb: Yes, and there are billions of dollars or Euros going around and nobody has a grip on it. It seems that Blatter is on top of a mountain and is capable of staying there by bribing everybody and living a luxurious life. It was horrible to see how this organization uses the beautiful game of football just to fill their own pockets.

Davis: Larry, I think we have probably lived through that in some of our sporting leagues in the United States. There has been great pressure on the professional football league here in America and on professional baseball to open up its finances and to share with the communities that it serves. Do you think that is just sort of evolution of a sporting league?

Rohter: Yes, I would say Sebastiaan’s remarks certainly apply to Brazil as well. The national federation is under attack on lack of transparency and corruption. The Brazilian Federation of Soccer signed a huge deal with Nike, $150 to $160 million, and then renewed after 10 years for pretty much the same amount. The expectation was that that money was going to go into youth programs and support for the sport. Well, where did that money go? Everybody in the world wants to play Brazil, and that is a huge source of income and no accounting. The game itself may be democratic, but the executive structure and the accounting certainly are not.

Davis: Well, I can tell my guests that the American attention span, which is notoriously short and very domestically oriented, is also turning its attention to this World Cup. I haven’t seen as much coverage in the United States on a World Cup in my lifetime. Despite South Africa’s challenges, some progress has been made in the 16 years since democracy was adopted. For example, the country cut its murder rate in half and set up the world’s biggest anti-retroviral treatment program for HIV/AIDS, and now it is hosting the world’s most popular and arguably most important sporting event. It is only fitting that the Cup has been dedicated to Nelson Mandela. In the coming weeks, we will see a chance for South Africa to really shine.

Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students Liz Lance, Youn-Joo Park, Angela Potrykus, Tim Wall and Rebecca Wolfson. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.




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