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May 24, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Countdown to the World Cup: Focus on South Africa

All eyes are soon to be on South Africa. All ears will no doubt hear the extraordinarily irritating sound of the popular vuvuzelas—those long plastic horns that the odd person will have at a Super 14 game to make some noise. They have been so embraced in South Africa that chances are, the majority of the locals will be trumpeting away when kick-off comes. A warning for those travelling to the tournament: South African Airways’ in-flight magazine permits carrying a vuvuzela onboard—but blow it during the journey, and you’ll face a potential penalty of up to fifteen years in prison for the criminal offence.

South Africa, with a history of poverty, crime, racial segregation and sporting isolation, has a chance to follow Beijing’s lead from the 2008 Olympics and dispatch of negative public perception surrounding its tarnished image. For a nation once plagued by apartheid and sports boycotts, FIFA’s decision to award South Africa hosting rights for football’s premier event represents the latest in a line of decisions (a return to the ’92 Olympics at Barcelona, hosting the ‘95 Rugby World Cup and the 2009 Cricket World Cup) to reinstate the country among mainstream international sporting tournaments.

In preparation for the World Cup, five new stadiums have been constructed, and a further five have been refurbished. A sum of $3.7 million has been poured into a new international airport in Durban and a high-speed train between Johannesburg Airport and the city centre, among other improvements. While the football festival will inject approximately $55 billion into the economy and create around 415,400 jobs, the real benefits will stem from global profiling that will generate the long-term spinoffs. Tourism gold awaits the nation.

Nelson Mandela proclaimed “I feel like a young man of 50” when he hoisted the World Cup trophy after South Africa was announced as host for 2010. There’s virtually no chance the Bafana Bafana side will have the good fortune of Mandela to get to grips with the trophy, but the chance to play host is already a victory for the country. Sports administrator Danny Jordaan, who led the bid for South Africa, was optimistic even before the preparations had begun: “Members of the executive committee, I hope you understand what you have done for so many people in South Africa; unemployed, no food, but now with hope. You have turned a dream into hope and that dream has come true today.”

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