Why I’m not watching the World Cup

Wednesday, 23rd June 2010 at 8:00 UTC 4 comments

Whilst the rest of the World seems to be going mad over the current ongoing sporting event, I’m neither joining in, nor totally disinterested. I just can’t seem to get in the mood when I’m abundantly aware of the immense social damage, not to mention environmental damage, that this event is causing in South Africa, and the false images being put out around it.

I once commented that if I were to set up a campaign entirely from scratch, it would be a campaign against major global sporting events. Sadly, I doubt anyone would join, because no one likes a killjoy, but its precisely during a party that the worst pain can most easily be inflicted on those at the margins.

The World Cup in South Africa, like the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Summer Games in Beijing, has been rife with triumphalism in a place with immense hardship just off-camera. Indeed, behind every major transnational sporting event, something is happening that the organisers don’t want you to know about, be it construction worker deaths, destruction of working class communities, jailing of homeless people, shooting of street children, attacks on free speech, etc.

There is a probably a simple reason for this that has nothing to do with the sport itself: when we have a party, we like to sweep the mess under the sofa. On a small scale, hastily tidying a living room before the guests arrive, we might disturb the odd carpet bug. On a city scale, or even national scale, far more destruction is likely to occur, lives will be broken, communities uprooted never to be allowed back, and space that is made for shiny new buildings is unlikely to return to former usage.

In one word, the activist lingo calls this Gentrification – literally, to make something fit for the Gentry, at the expense of the current inhabitants. There is always a fine line between Gentrification and Redevelopment, but much Redevelopment can focus around creating a better living environment for the current residents, whereas Gentrification means the poor, whose community may have been strong and enduring, moving out, and richer folks moving in, likely never to create any enduring community. The trouble with sports grounds is that, as Beijing should have shown us, they make an excellent way to flatten an unsightly neighbourhood.

Several stories have emerged that have confirmed this, but none has caught my attention more than the plight of street vendors, forced off the streets to make way for the big corporations to sell what they are perfectly capable of selling. I’ve been in several countries where street vendors scraping a life are a common sight, and so I can identify by proxy the faces in the stories.

The over-bearing branding of such events always offends me. Once upon a time people played sport for the joy of it, nowadays it can be difficult to see the actual sport for all the marketing going on around. Every moment of celebration is brought to you by someone selling a product, as if to validate it.

But what is more cruel is the way these hegemonic images are enforced at the expense of anyone unable to afford them, with the Street Vendor the first against the wall. Perhaps the Government is embarrassed by them, and this excellent opportunity to sweep them away, much in the fashion I shovel piles of paper under the stairs whenever people are visiting, makes a good enough excuse.

We are sometimes told about the jobs that a project of this scale will create; the problem is, these jobs are short term and all at once. The work offered by companies who roll into town is often low paid and very often conditional are atrocious. But the event creates a sort of “positive crisis”, there is no time to allow protest; last week in Durban, workers’ pleas were looked upon with batons and tear gas – the message very clear: the rich must be allowed to party.

It might just be easier to turn a blind eye, join in the triumphalism, enjoy some good sporting moments with friends. I certainly found it in me to enjoy some of the Winter Olympics whilst following the protests on the Web, often concurrently. It might be easier to pretend we can deal with this once the party is over. We don’t want to appear as killjoys. The fact is, each time one of these big parties arrives in town, its the little people who get trampled in the rush to clean everything up. In closing, I’d like to echo the words of one street vendor:

"I’ll be happy when this whole thing is over, maybe the police will leave us alone so we can earn a living for our children."

Is it too much to ask?


Entry filed under: Africa, Community, Corporations, Development, Free Space, Free Speech, Olympics, Sports.

Parties and Movements as Managers and Changers State of Mind or State of the Nation?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jay  |  Wednesday, 23rd June 2010 at 10:16 UTC

    The regime in South Africa is horrid, but I suspect the real reason you’re not watching the world cup is that you’re just not that into football.

  • 2. OWJ Burnham  |  Thursday, 24th June 2010 at 10:28 UTC

    Where were you between 3 and 5 yesterday, Graham? Becuase I seem to recall you being in a room, with me, watching the football.

    • 3. Graham Martin  |  Thursday, 24th June 2010 at 10:55 UTC

      For someone so keen on getting consensus on things, you did a poor job of getting consensus. I thought at the time how I would have blocked if you’d given me the option!

      And besides, I think it was acknowledged that I was concentrating so much on other things, like writing the Memory Project and sorting the flags for the bunting as they dried, that I completely missed the goal scoring!

  • 4. Helen  |  Thursday, 24th June 2010 at 16:58 UTC

    Don’t you mean the men’s football world cup? 🙂
    In all honesty, whether you’re watching it or not, I think there are really important issues to think about and discuss.


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