Life after the World Cup

It has been three months since Spain lifted the World Cup trophy at Soccer City in Johannesburg.  I will never forget the blasting of the vuvuzela horns (my ears are still ringing) and the excitement on the streets of Jozi during the month long soccer party.

There is no doubt in my mind that South Africa is better off after hosting a football World Cup. Of course, many would disagree.  They argue that the infrastructure and resources invested in the tournament came at a huge cost to be funded by tax payers for  years to come. There is also the argument that the privileged profited from the World Cup, with the majority of South Africa not directly benefiting from the tournament.

There is still a gargantuan socio-economic divide in South Africa, but a soccer tournament can’t be expected to provide the long term solution to this divide. The divide can only be overcome through inspired leadership, determined political resolve, sustained foreign direct investment, more public-private partnerships and most importantly: a quality education for all South Africans.

Here are three ways that I believe the legacy of the tournament will continue to benefit South Africa:

 1. Nation building

The World Cup was an excellent exercise in nation building, uniting most of South Africa behind a national cause and temporally bridging the socio-economic gap – at least at face value – in the bars, fan parks and streets across South Africa. The euphoria reminded me of the pride and sense of unity of the 1995 rugby World Cup. Even though Bafana Bafana didn’t move past the first round, the success of this 2010 tournament has instilled a belief that anything is achievable with the right mix of planning, leadership, passion and hard work. A number of campaigns were launched to sustain this wave of patriotism.  One such campaign is LeadSA, launched in August 2010 by a Jozi-based broadcaster to encourage South Africans to personally take charge of the success of the country, abide by the rule of law and help drive positive change

2. Goodwill

During my travels to the US and Europe over the past three months, I have been overwhelmed by the interest the tournament has created for the country. The organisation of the World Cup 2010 was world class. You just need to read reports from the Commonwealth Games in Delhi to know how damaging a large sporting event can be for the image of a country. Even though the revenue generated from tourists and business people visiting the country during the World Cup was below the expectations of some of the locals, there is no doubt that the spotlight on the country has changed perceptions and will prompt more tourists to visit in the future. The branding exercise will also hopefully encourage multinational corporations currently not active in Southern Africa to consider investing in the region.  Everyone I have spoken with has been positive about South Africa hosting the World Cup. The country passed the World Cup test with flying colours, but this excellence needs to be sustained, as incidents such as the attack on a former New Zealand rugby coach in his Hyde Park home can quickly disolve the country’s hard earned goodwill and brand equity.

3.  Infrastructure

Besides the magnificent stadia, the investment in telecommunications infrastructure to improve backhaul and broadband capacity across the region will be an enduring legacy of the World Cup. It will not only help bridge the digital divide within the country, but will also allow the Southern Africa region to compete on the global stage. The promise of increased and affordable bandwidth from undersea cable projects such as Eassy should result in South African businesses offering a wider array of offshoring services to the developed world.  With improved telecommunications, South Africa has the skills, language capabilities and favorable time zone to provide an alternative to other offshoring destinations.

The World Cup has highlighted South Africa’s potential on the global stage.  It is incredibly important that South Africa leverages the international goodwill, our national pride and the new infrastructure to make the most of this window of opportunity to produce sustainable economic growth and improve the lives of all South African citizens.

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