Hopefully you haven’t been ‘necklaced.’ In fact, if you are reading this, then you most certainly won’t have been. Necklacing is the horrendous act of placing a car tyre over a person’s body, dousing them with petrol and then setting them alight. It is also a word that you will read about in the press more and more leading up to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
Could the World Cup damage its identity beyond repair even before a ball is kicked?
The press need angles on South Africa. Between now and the start of the tournament they will definitely find them. Necklacing is just one fear factor that they will be all too happy to tell us about. We will also be bombarded with tales of rape, AIDS, violence, riots, and more forms of human suffering. The more lascivious and dirty, the better.
Truth will be in there somewhere, but it will be distorted out of all recognisable shape. The rich, diverse, cultural cornerstones of the country will be lost in sensationalist articles. The media machine functions on a stream of information designed to titilate, excite focussing on the shadows. Not many editors will be interested in a country preparing for a massive influx of foreigners as best they can. They want the public to hear about the threat of mugging, drugs, gangs or the ease of contracting AIDS on a bus.
Incompetence will be the other target. Failures make great stories and the bigger the better. Press gold dust is South Africa getting it all wrong. Even if everything is fine, you will still read stories of ancient wobbly stands with cracking concrete, stadiums half-built by have-no-clue local contractors, cockroach-infested hotels and training pitches made from dirt. Articles suggesting that Sepp Blatter is seriously considering pulling the plug on South Africa and swapping the show to another country will start to appear with more frequency.
Will he buckle?
If he gives in to the hype then it will be more than a simple travesty, it would be a full on disaster for football. If South Africa is genuinely incapable, then it will be a major surprise. FIFA wanted an African nation to host the World Cup and will have worked hard to ascertain whether they could manage successfully. The Rugby World Cup proved that they could handle a major event. It gave the country and the world confidence in their abilities.
The problem for South Africa and Sepp Blatter is that they do have problems. It is undeniable. The country features in global top tens for murder, rape and riot statistics. Most people with any kind of money live in closed off gate communities. Those who don’t mainly live in abject poverty. AIDS is also a shocking problem in the country, as around 30% of pregnant women have the disease. This rate has many knock-on effects, the most alarming being the million-plus ‘AIDS Orphans’.
These are easy targets, but what about the effort being made to put that right? What about the positive effect the World Cup would have on the country? And what about the negative effects?
Whatever the answers are, none could be worse than canceling the tournament and shifting it to another country. That would compound beyond repair the damage that will be inflicted on the country over the next two years. The best answer is that South Africa puts on a vibrant spectacle that is memorable as a celebration of great football. If they can do that, then the confidence the country will gain can give it immense power in overcoming its problems.
If Blatter is serious about Africa, then he must ignore the looming media onslaught — he must not buckle.