The 2010 Football World Cup: its duty to lead by example

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa will be a catalyst for progress for Africa if the impact of the event becomes part of a long-term perspective and leaves a lasting and measurable legacy, writes Joël Bouzou, president and founder of Peace and Sport.

The following commentary was sent to EURACTIV by Joël Bouzou.

"The decision to award the Football World Cup 2010 to South Africa was in part motivated by a promise of a political nature: to make this event a catalyst for stability, democratisation and social progress for South Africa and the entire African continent.

The assertion 'humanist, pro-African, multicultural and pacifist' stated by President Mbeki when the decision was made today tempts us to measure the social value of the Football World Cup 2010.

[…] An initial assessment of the situation could nurture disillusionment: the methods of redistributing the benefits to the entire continent are inadequate. Due to the economic crisis, the expected effect of the event to act as a driving force to stimulate economic and social dynamism in Africa has not occurred. Unemployment in South Africa has rocketed, as have tensions caused by unrelenting social inequalities between whites and blacks.

This somewhat gloomy observation should not, however, lead us to the conclusion that the World Cup will not have a positive effect in South Africa.

The social angle of such an event is to look beyond the brief media reaction and the benefits for finance and tourism: results that are real but transitory.

It should not either focus on the myth of the 'rainbow nation' reconciled and united behind its national team. True, this is an undeniable 'magic effect' of major sporting events but it is all too often (unfortunately) short-lived.

As it is being held for the first time on a continent scarred by frequent violent conflicts and endemic poverty, it is the duty of the World Cup 2010 to set an example, demonstrating that sport can be a factor for social and human development and a vehicle for sustainable peace.

This challenge will only be accomplished if the impact of this event becomes part of a long-term perspective and leaves a lasting and measurable legacy.

FIFA has taken this angle fully into consideration. In 2004, when deciding to award the biggest international media event to the most disadvantaged continent on the planet, the Federation ignored the Afro-pessimism that dominates economic and political circles, clearly demonstrating that sport can play a pioneering role in development.

And the Federation didn't stop at merely wishful thinking. The World Cup hosting is accompanied by a wide-ranging action programme to fight against discrimination and encourage education and training, benefiting thousands of young Africans. This programme has prompted dozens of NGOs to carry out similar actions whose repercussions will be appreciated long after the final whistle has sounded. The World Cup is thus not perceived as an end in itself, but as a catalyst for social progress instigated by FIFA.

As a result, the 2010 World Cup acts as a source of inspiration for all international sports federations. Whatever their resources and their size, through the events they organise, they have the power to fight against poverty, to foster education and to promote dialogue in a sustainable and effective manner… Consequently, they can be a motor in achieving the Millennium Development Goals that have been drawn up by the UN.

Given the tremendous need and urgency of some situations, it is the responsibility of the sporting family to use its leverage capabilities to make a tangible contribution to these priorities for future generations.

By leading the way in integrating sport into the service of peace and development, the 2010 Football World Cup will leave a legacy that extends far beyond the African continent."

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