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A World Coup? Host Nations and World Cup Catastrophes



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A World Cup is undoubtedly the most anticipated and celebrated event on the football calendar. Every four years we are treated to a feast of football that comprises of the picturesque stadiums, the fanatical fans and the scintillating action unfolding on the pitch. Although with politics and sport often inextricably linked, there has rarely been a World Cup pass by without some form of controversy.

So with South Africa 2010 only just around the corner should we really be panicking about the potential problems that have been bandied around the media? It’s certainly difficult to tell at this stage but one thing for sure is that South Africa isn’t the first and clearly won’t be the last nation to be affected by the hullabaloo of hosting the football World Cup.

Argentina 1978 – A Total(itarian) Tragedy

It was in July 1966 that FIFA announced that Argentina would be the host nation for the 1978 World Cup. With 12 years to prepare, surely nothing could go wrong for the South American country?

Things did not turn out as planned. During the period of 1976-78 Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship which spelt disaster for the hosts and their chances of staging a controversy-free World Cup. General Videla’s strict totalitarian regime was widely opposed and before a ball had even been kicked there had been suggestions that a major boycott of the competition was set to take place.

In recent times the great Johann Cruyff has admitted that his personal decision to boycott the tournament was due to a kidnap attempt in 1977. In an interview with Radio Catalunya last year, the Dutchman admitted that kidnappers had held a rifle to his head and tied up his wife and children in a somewhat gruelling ordeal.

Many thousands of people were killed during Videla’s dictatorial ruling and even the chairman of the World Cup organising committee, General Omar Actis, was assassinated in the build-up to the start of the competition.

Despite so much controversy and human suffering, the World Cup did go ahead amid fears of turmoil and turned out to be a relative success. Hosts Argentina took the crown beating Holland 3-1 in the final.

Mexico 1986 – A Natural Disaster

The 1986 World Cup will undoubtedly be remembered for Maradona’s now rather infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England (with the appropriate link for all of the Scottish fans out there).

Although even before the little Argentine maestro had had the chance to assert himself in the tournament, a devastating natural disaster had threatened to halt proceedings altogether.

Just eight months prior to the World Cup commencing, a catastrophic earthquake hit Mexico City killing some 20,000 people.

Despite such a severe setback, Mexico recovered to stage an exciting and eventful tournament with a Maradona inspired Argentina overcoming West Germany 3-2 in the final.

France 1998 – Just About Cleared For Landing

France became the seventh separate nation to win the World Cup back in 1998 when they beat Brazil 3-0 in front of a capacity 80,000 crowd at the Stade de France. Although that figure may have been drastically reduced had the transport strikes that threatened to ruin the tournament not been brought under control.

The primary concern for the French organising committee in the build-up to the start of the World Cup was the threat posed by Air France. The dispute and subsequent fury of Air France pilots was focused around the proposal of Air France management to cut costs meaning pilots’ pay would plummet by 15%.

The pilots indicated that they would strike in the first two weeks of June when an estimated 2,500,000 foreign visitors were expected to arrive, effectively crippling World Cup attendances.

Lorry drivers and railwaymen also sounded their discontent but fortunately an agreement was made with Air France management just a few hours before the first match kicked off on June 10th ensuring any potential strike didn’t take-off.

South Korea/Japan 2002 – Co-Host(ility)

The obvious concern surrounding the 2002 World Cup was that fact that this was going to be the first ever World Cup tournament hosted by two countries which undoubtedly presented a logistical nightmare.

Ofcourse travelling from one side of Japan to the other end of South Korea made life considerably difficult for supporters and in the opinion of Guillem Balague, the co-hosting factor of this particular World Cup was a complete failure.

In an interview with the Guardian at the time, Balague admitted: “It takes 22 hours to get from Shizuoka in Japan to Gwangju in Korea and three trains, one taxi, one night hotel, one plane, one subway and two coaches, as well as four security checks.”

You could perhaps comprehend travelling from one adjacent country to another although the distance of travel for many fans was often immense and at times, simply unachievable.

FIFA’s apparent misuse of the Saudi Arabian flag and extortionately priced last minute TV deals added to the problems of the 2002 World Cup which was eventually won by Brazil for a record fifth time.

Germany 2006 – Hooli Crap

Despite being labelled as one of the most successful World Cup’s in the history of the tournament, Germany 2006 didn’t pass by without its fair share of hiccups.

Fears over hooliganism escalated as the opening of the tournament drew ever closer and these fears were realised throughout the four week period of the World Cup.

Although rarely portrayed in the mainstream media, clashes between English and German fans as well as riots between German and Polish supporters often marred events on the pitch.

As well as being worried about hooligan presence, German officials were also concerned that the World Cup may be targeted by terrorists. Fortunately this turned out not to be the case and Italy went on to conquer the tournament after an eventful and truly entertaining final victory over France.

South Africa 2010 – Safe Africa?

With just over a year to go until the next World Cup takes place in South Africa, fears are already surfacing within the press over crime rate, ticketing and even power cuts.

So will Danny Jordaan and the rest of the World Cup organising committee manage to deliver an exciting and relatively trouble-free tournament and will fans be flocking to the African continent despite the number of media fuelled concerns?

For more information on the 2010 World Cup and the potential problems being faced by South Africa, check out this week’s Soccerlens podcast show with guests Gary Andrews and Daryl Grove.

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