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October 18, 2012

South Africa Struggles to Maintain World Cup Legacy

by Emilie Iob

When South Africa won its bid to host football's 2010 World Cup it promised its citizens lasting social and economic benefits.  But huge costs associated with the sporting event have been a point of controversy, causing some to question whether it was worth it. 

Everyday after school, about 80 children come to play on a brand new football field in the heart of Hillbrow, one of Johannesburg's most infamous areas.  The court was donated by the Dutch soccer team and the Johan Cruyff foundation during football's 2010 World Cup.  It is one of the most outstanding legacies of the event.  On the wall above the stands is a sign with the rules the children have to follow.  They include respect, fair play and social involvement.

Coach John "Bull" Sibeko says that in addition to providing an outlet for the children, the sport has also changed their behavior - for the better.

"Before I started here, I couldn't believe I would stay for more than a year" said Sibeko. "Because kids were uncontrollable. You could understand the background, from where they were coming from.  High level of vandalism, bullying among themselves.  But now, if we are playing tournaments around, in terms of behavior, in terms of values, in terms of culture, in terms of respect, the group, you couldn't distinguish it," he said.

New and improved sports infrastructure is not the only benefit from the World Cup.  In neighboring Bertrams, an area long plagued by high criminality and poverty, public transportation has improved, explained social worker Phindile Tshabangu.

"That is the new bus system.  People use it now because it is quicker, safer and cheaper," Tshabangu said.

The revamped roads and street lights, new parks and clean streets are all obvious benefits from the World Cup. But the challenge now is to maintain them.  Some benefits have not lasted, Tshabangu said.

"Before, in 2010, the police used to come. You'd find police cars around the area.  But now, no more.  Safety was so good, you could see people leaving at night.  But now, no more. "

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Maintaining the five new stadiums that were built especially for the World Cup is a problem. Most of them struggle to be profitable or even to just pay the maintenance fees.

On the pitch, Brazilian tourist Danilo Camargo poses for a souvenir photo with his girlfriend. The new Green Point stadium in Cape Town has become a landmark of the city, and everyday tourists from all around the world come to visit.  But for Camargo, whose home country Brazil will host the next football World Cup in two years, it is not necessarily an example to follow.

"My opinion is that we should build schools and hospitals, instead of stadiums," he said. "But you know, we are already chosen for the World Cup, so now we have to build."

The total cost of the South Africa World Cup was $3.8 billion, 10 times more than what was originally planned.

Many in South Africa share Danilo's opinion regarding the building of new stadiums, which are seen as extravagances.

The new Cape Town stadium still struggles to host enough events to pay for its colossal maintenance.  Some people are calling for it to be demolished, while others even propose turning it into low-income housing.

Grant Pascoe, counselor in charge of tourism and marketing for the city of Cape Town, does not deny the difficulties the management is facing, but said they work hard to make the stadium profitable.

"We've had a number of events. Obviously not as high as what we would have liked," he said. "We should have prepared better for how the stadium would be used.  However, now we are in the process of doing everything that we need to do. There are some restrictions on us that prohibit us from doing commercial activities at the stadium to pay for itself," Pascoe said.

Despite all the controversy, most South Africans agree that the World Cup did reinforce social cohesion in a country marked by deep racial discrimination.

And the infrastructure should be put to use again next year, as South Africa will host the African Cup of Nations.