Tuesday, July 13, 2010

World Cup Aftermath and Race in South Africa

William Rhoden has a piece on the economic impact of the World Cup.  He interviews one guy and essentially concludes that the white folks made the money even though the African National Congress has power politically.  The finding that a major sporting event has little spillover to the poorer folks is hardly news, and it says very little about the state of race relations in South Africa.  Most events of this kind are incredibly expensive, producing heaps of infrastructure that is often poorly utilized afterwards. 

As a resident of Montreal, where the debt payments for the 1976 Olympics only recently ended and where the big stadium needs yet another new $300 million roof, I can only be skeptical of any promise of big bucks for big sports.  It may be the case that whites did better than blacks in South Africa with the World Cup, but the larger reality is that these events rarely pay off for the countries that host them.  Only if the planning is really clever so that the city gets heaps of transportation and other infrastructure investments does it make sense financially.  Construction workers do well in the short term, but finding a use for all of the stadiums over the long run may be a challenge. 

Only if one can monetize pride, self-esteem, and nationalism do these events really pay off.  And maybe that is enough, but to expect these events to make substantial improvements on the local economies is not realistic.  Rhoden may be right, that race may have played a role, but a wider comparison (and perhaps more than one interview) might have told a slightly different story--less about racial politics and more about boondoggle politics.

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