Violence sullies soccer glory
It was meant as the ultimate symbol of South Africa’s emergence as a global player - in both senses of the term - but the award to host soccer’s World Cup tournament in 2010 has become caught up in the country’s recent spasm of anti-foreigner violence.
Officials at FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, expressed concern this week about the violence, but said there was no thought now of finding another host for the hugely popular quadrennial event.
“We trust them, I trust them, and we will do this World Cup definitely in South Africa,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter told reporters at a news conference in Sydney, Australia, where the organization held its annual congress.
But with South African organizers already under fire for the state of preparations to date, questions about the prospects for the first African World Cup are on the rise.
“I, being an African, am definitely in favor of the tournament coming over to our continent, but I would not be particularly inclined towards hosting it amid the current social ambience that prevails in South Africa at present,” Awenlimobor Sylvester, African correspondent for the soccer Internet news site Goal.com, wrote this week.
The decision to give South Africa the World Cup tournament was seen as a major vote of confidence in the country’s financial resources, security, marketing expertise and transportation and communications infrastructure. The host country must provide playing venues and accommodations for 32 international teams, while dealing with hordes of officials, reporters and dignitaries, as well as hundreds of thousands of raucous fans.
South African soccer officials said they were braced for protests and unfriendly press coverage when the national team traveled to play fierce rival Nigeria in a African Nations Cup qualifier match Sunday.
Despite the assurances from FIFA, some are already talking about the possibility of relocating the World Cup.
“The images from South Africa were horrible,” Willi Lemke, the U.N. special adviser on sports, said in an interview in Berlin with the Reuters news service.
While hoping the anti-foreigner violence would be quickly contained, Mr. Lemke said, “If the scenes repeat themselves, FIFA will have to rethink its decision in favor of South Africa and, if necessary, pull the plug.”