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World Cup Aftermath – Will South Africa suffer from a Greek Tragedy or maintain its potentially winning streak?

Like any huge event with a fantastic build-up, the 2010 World Cup has come and gone and South Africa as a host nation has suddenly felt the post-event vacuum. From the Football fever that gripped the nation to a swift realization that the daily grind is returning. In Durban in a matter of days, the city went back to being a functioning, working urban environment with businesses returning to normal, schools going back, restaurants suddenly becoming quieter as all the foreign visitors swiftly exiting the host cities. Yet despite the normalcy returning to the city, a pervading sense of achievement has left South Africans proud.

16 years into democracy and with many challenges facing a divisive nation, many skeptics were adamant that South Africa as a young democracy with a backlog of infrastructural upgrades, educational and social inadequacies coupled with economic fluctuations and political changes would not be able to host such a spectacular event as the World Cup. Australia was waiting in the wings. Sydney, Perth and Melbourne were the back-up plan, especially Sydney being an Olympic host city.

As the crescendo grew towards the 11th June 2010, South Africa got behind the event 110% and a unprecedented wave of patriotism and pride swept the country embracing the concept of being a host country on every level from the massive tourism campaigns to the media applauding every match in a truly South African spirit despite Bafana Bafana being knocked out early. To the rest of the world’s amazement, this rainbow nation pulled off another milestone. Having hosted the 2010 Soccer World Cup along with the 1995 Rugby and 2003 Cricket World Cups, all is left for South Africa are the Olympics. With such South Africans gaining celebrity status internationally in various fields from Charlize Theron, a Benoni born beauty now famous Hollywood actress clutching that Oscar for best actress for her breakout performance in Monster to the recent Mossel Bay golfer Louis Oosthuizen winning the Open Championships at St Andrews in Scotland to Nelson Mandela celebrating his 92nd birthday on the 18th July and now a successful hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, all of which are colourful feathers decorating the rainbow cap currently worn by South Africa. How long with this euphoria last before the cracks begin to appear in a picture perfect country capable of surmounting indescribable challenges?

Already the afterglow of achievement pales as the realities of the immediate future loom ahead. Public servants in South Africa from policeman to nurses are poised to strike, the stadiums hailed as iconic and beautiful during the World Cup will need to find income generating events to sustain their usability for the next 20 years. Durban is looking to make a bid to host a possible Summer Olympics in 2020 or 2024, using the existing infrastructure and increasing the potential sports developmental node surrounding the Moses Madhiba stadium from creating an Olympic village to upgrading the Olympic size swimming pool to the equestrian and archery centre in line with the numerous sporting codes required for a city to host the Olympics. Placing dreams aside, the electricity capacity for South Africa needs to be increased tenfold and that comes with a huge expense at a time when the global economic outlook is not exactly booming. Eskom, SA’s national electricity supplier has increased the costs by 25 % limiting the potential of small to medium size businesses surviving in this climate of economic slowdown. Retail outlets across South Africa are struggling to survive whilst vast malls are standing with closed shops, vacancy signs swinging as the walkways, restaurants and cinemas are increasingly deserted due to a lack of the average citizen’s disposable income.

Globally, it was only 18 months ago when the recession hit internationally and now with various countries struggling to recover from the year-long debt crisis, along with the recent bailout for Greece from EU strong arms, France and Germany and the US and Britain re-examining the cost of expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004 Greece was celebrated with its successful hosting of the Athens Olympic Games, and now is struggling to deal with the massive debt-crisis and a bloated public service, only proving that world wide realities are hard to avoid as the allure of International Sporting Events fades swiftly into memory and digital storage, leaving the host countries staggering from a financial pounding for outlaying so much cash for such a short-term event, without examining the long term implications. Let’s hope South Africa does not suffer from a similar Greek tragedy in a couple of months, as Johannesburg-based economists calculate the true spinoffs of the 2010 World Cup for this rainbow country, while the majority of financial gains has left with the last FIFA officials on Zurich bound flights.

Whilst South Africa is fortunate not to be ravaged by internal conflict to the extent of Afghanistan, it has to remain realistic about the road ahead once sport has evaporated as a temporary diversion for patriotism. Afghanistan has no such luxury of substituting sport for war since its intrinsic society has been shattered by years of radicalism and remains a scarred example of how a nation can unravel completely illustrated in the superb film The Kite Runner. Yet even in Kabul there appears hope. The Afghan War has dragged on for 9 years with only now a recent announcement stemming from a peace conference in Kabul that Afghanistan needs to become self-governing without the assistance of NATO-led forces by 2014, a target which is less realistic yet more idealistic. So like South Africa where 20 years ago no one would have imagined a country as divided as when Nelson Mandela was released from prison would achieve in 2010 such an astonishing accomplishment, Afghanistan too has the potential to succeed and rebuild and rejuvenate. Imagine Kabul as a potential host city for the Olympic Games in 2036? As for Athens, once the centre of antiquity and as restoration projects continue unperturbed on the Acropolis, hope is not lost there either. Greece’s greatest asset like Cyprus is their perfect location on the ever-alluring Mediterranean.

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