Monday, June 7, 2010

South Africa Scores with World Cup

When the 2010 World Cup opens later this week, the Republic of South Africa will be center stage in a global tournament that will highlight the progress of Africa’s leading emerging market. Its modern cities and advanced infrastructure will impress those who have never visited the country, or Africa at all, before now. However, what visitors and viewers will not notice is how much South Africa had to overcome in order to host the world’s 19th soccer tournament.

When South Africa beat out Morocco and Egypt in an all-African bidding process in 2004 to become the first African host of the World Cup, its struggles were just beginning. Only two years into preparations, FIFA, the sanctioning body for international soccer, began to become concerned about South Africa’s planning process, and there was talk that the games could be moved to another country.

Even after such talk was dismissed by FIFA, South Africa was faced with the task of building five new stadiums and upgrading five existing venues on time at an estimated cost of US$1.07 billion. Then labor troubles struck as 70,000 construction workers went on strike, claiming they were underpaid at US$313 per month. Although the immediate strike was resolved, some unions have threatened to strike during the World Cup itself. The Congress of South African Trade Unions has said the federation and its affiliates reserve the right to take industrial action at any time despite the blow to the country during its day in the spotlight.

The next challenge came from al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb, which threatened to attack South Africa during the World Cup. The terror organization crowed about the prospect of an attack during the live televised match between the United States and the United Kingdom when the stadium is full of spectators and of the impact “when the sound of an explosion rumbles through the stands, the whole stadium turned upside down and the number of dead bodies are in their dozens and hundreds, Allah willing.” France, Germany and Italy also were announced as al Qaeda targets during the tournament.

Last October, South Africa announced that its security forces had foiled an al Qaeda attempt to mount a World Cup terrorist attack. A joint operation by South Africa’s National Intelligence Agency, senior police forces and American intelligence agents conducted what was called a successful joint operation, arresting suspects linked to al Qaeda in Somalia and Mozambique said to be working on a bomb plot scheduled for the World Cup. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security has been training South African police on anti-terror techniques, and the United States has sent inspection barriers, x-ray machines and other equipment to South Africa.

Although some terrorism experts believe the al Qaeda threats may be a ploy to stir up publicity and cause problems for target nations before and during the tournament, the South African and American governments have taken the threat seriously.

Yet another international concern is the rise of human trafficking during the World Cup. An influx of prostitutes from such countries as China, Pakistan, India, Hong Kong and Venezuela have been noted pouring into the country, although the primary source of incoming sex workers is from Zimbabwe. Contrary to the traditional pattern of cross-border buses from Zimbabwe carrying mostly men, in recent months such traffic is mostly female. However, a significant percentage of the prostitutes aiming to service many of the estimated 373,000 soccer fans will not be arriving on a voluntary basis.

South African President Jacob Zuma has urged parents and care givers to be extra vigilant to ensure the safety of children during the World Cup. In opening Child Protection Week and announcing the launch of the Children’s Act in early April, Zuma warned that school closure for mid-term vacation would leave large numbers of children with limited supervision. As many as half of the reported six to eight hundred thousand trafficked persons worldwide are minors.

FIFA has provided additional police officers from all participating nations, although no connection has been made to the trafficking issue. The International Organization for Migration launched an initiative last month to support anti-trafficking organizations during the World Cup and initiated a nationwide awareness campaign, all paid for by the U.S. Department of State.

Only days before the World Cup is to begin, South African authorities have asked Interpol to alert its members to stop companies worldwide who have been illegally selling tickets for the event. Match Event Services, granted the exclusive right to sell World Cup tickets, has identified 122 companies violating their franchise. South African police are concerned about an influx of people coming into the country with bogus tickets and say they will arrest and prosecute anyone found selling tickets without authorization.

South Africa will justifiably reap the rewards of all its hard work in getting the World Cup and staging these games, but most observers had no idea of how difficult this process has been. Now they do.

Let’s hope the roar of the crowd is for a well-played match and not a tragedy in the stands.