Not All Countries Are The Same: The Responsibility of Developing Countries Hosting the World Cup

Lace Up Save Lives -- Bono and Drogba

According to FIFA, South Africa’s strategy to win the right to host the 2010 World Cup was simple but powerful.  South Africa argued that it had the best stadia facilities in Africa.  It had commercial backing from leading corporations.  It had the continent’s strongest economy, a sophisticated media and broadcast industry, and an enormous South African support base from the South African population.  Members of the South African Organizing Committee and those lobbying on its behalf also repeatedly suggested that getting the World Cup would be part of Africa’s renaissance strategy.

Historically, facilities, commercial backing, a stable economy, media and broadcast capability, and local support have all been vital and necessary components of a successful World Cup bid.  But in positioning itself to win the right to host the World Cup, it seems that South Africa might have lost sight of the fact that South Africa is not Germany or France or South Korea/Japan or the United States.  As a developing nation, and particularly as the first African nation to win the right to host the World Cup, South Africa must have a specific plan to use the inaugural African World Cup to develop South African communities.  But perhaps more importantly, South Africa needs to publicly document the steps they are taking to do so.

To be blunt, it is fundamentally irresponsible for South Africa to act like it is Germany or France or the United States.  It needs to do more simply because its people need more.  This event is the perfect opportunity to develop a blueprint outlining how hosting the world’s largest sporting event can transform a society beyond generic statements about stimulating the economy.  General proclamations about events stimulating an economy all too often only end up providing long term gains for the already haves in society, while the have nots remain having not.  More public analysis and planning is required to show how hosting the World Cup will trickle down to the have nots in the long term.

World Cups are increasingly being utilized by NGOs and activists to broadcast messages about social change.  These organizations realize the unique opportunity that World Cups present to communicate the needs of people across the world.  A few days ago, serial activist, Bono, on behalf of (RED) and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, teamed up with Nike to launch “Lace Up.  Save Lives.”  The “Lace Up.  Save Lives” campaign is designed to generate funds for organizations fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.  Dider Drogba, the campaign’s Global Ambassador, along with Chelsea teammate Joe Cole, Lucas Neill, Marco Matterazzi, Andrei Arshavin, Clint Dempsey, Seol Ki-Hyeon, and Arsenal’s Denilson are all involved in the campaign.  This is just the latest high-profile example of organizing around the World Cup to bring about social change.

While many organizations clearly recognize the unique opportunity that the World Cup presents to make a statement, the South African government must also recognize and seize this opportunity to publicly get on board and set a precedent for other developing nations aspiring to host major events in the future. Ensuring that these plans are publicized is just as important as creating a strategic plan.  People need to see what is being done, and those creating the plans need to be held accountable for their promises.  Creating the framework for responsible hosting in a developing country will set the bar for what future developing nations can and must achieve for all of their people.  It will also show that hosting an event like the World Cup can have a significant and positive community impact off of the pitch.

Surely there are voices that will suggest that South Africa cannot afford to become entrenched in anything other than event organizing.  But this is not your average opportunity.  South African organizers have acknowledged this much.  But aside from the fact that the tournament will be played in Africa, most people would be hard pressed to point out how this World Cup differs from previous World Cups.  South Africa has a great opportunity to publicly redefine what it means for a developing country to host a major event.  South Africa needs to go public to explain to its people and to the world how hosting the World Cup can transform lives.  That would be the responsible thing to do.

So what’s your plan South Africa?