The Road to Africa: South Africa’s Hosting of the “African” World Cup
Emphasising SA’s Africaness. The calabash-shaped Soccer City Stadium. Photo by Shine 2010 (Creative Commons)
April 29, 2
Since first being introduced into South Africa and until the end of apartheid, football was affected by the politics of the country, and in particular, its system of racial subjugation. The all-white Football Association of South Africa (FASA) was formed in 1892, while the South African Indian Football Association, the South African Bantu Football Association and the South African Coloured Football Association were founded in 1903, 1933 and 1936 respectively. South Africa did not take part in the World Cup from 1930 to 1962, and from 1966 to 1992 the country was banned from Fifa.
This paper reflects upon South Africa’s role and participation in international football and Fifa World Cups from a historical and inevitably apartheid-based perspective. It also considers South Africa’s hosting of large sporting events leading up to the bidding process for 2010 and how such events were instrumental to the statecraft exercises of the state and corporate elites in a new democratic South Africa.
South Africa’s exclusion from international football
Although there had always been an informal policy of segregation within South African sport, the formal realisation of apartheid in 1948 further entrenched divisions on the playing field through legislation. Sporting activities had to comply with the broader policies of so-called “separate development” and there was to be no interracial mixing in sport. Non-white teams were barred from competing against white teams. Visiting teams were also expected to respect South Africa’s laws and customs. These developments were out of step with what was happening in most postcolonial football-playing countries – a tide of independent football associations swept through Fifa from the 1950s onwards, as affiliate countries started to come into their own as both independent political entities and as football-playing nations. Given the surge of nationalism and self-determination, particularly among the increasingly influential African bloc, South Africa’s membership to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) became increasingly untenable.
During the height of apartheid in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Fifa was divided on whether to grant membership to the white-controlled FASA or to the non-racial South African Soccer Federation (SASF), which was an umbrella body representing the interests of non-racial football. FASA had already been excluded from CAF after it refused to send a mixed team to compete in the first African Cup of Nations in 1957. In the late 1950s, the SASF began lobbying Fifa to allow it to replace FASA as South Africa’s representative in the world body. The SASF succeeded in getting FASA suspended in 1961, but the all-white association was given one year to prove itself as a non-racial body. An investigative commission was established to assess the possible reinstatement of FASA. On the recommendation of the then Fifa president, Stanley Rous, FASA was readmitted into Fifa. Yet the general sentiment, particularly from the African bloc, was that Fifa had acted in a way that endorsed the apartheid policies and CAF was determined to push the issue further. At the Fifa congress in 1964, acrimonious exchanges led to FASA’s suspension from the world body.
Although by the 1970s South Africa’s race policies had led to its isolation in the football world, domestically the 1970s saw the apartheid regime’s forceful imposition of subjugation on the field of play. A black National Professional Soccer League emerged with the backing of the government and South African Breweries. Corporate sponsorship of black football increased after state television was launched in 1976, as companies looked to exploit the game and gain access to the black consumer base. The watershed 1976 Soweto uprising set in motion a series of events that ultimately led to a gradual deracialisation of professional football. School and amateur football, which comprised more than 95% of players, remained strictly segregated until the 1980s. In the latter half of the 1980s the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party started laying the foundations for a negotiated settlement, with anti-apartheid activists lobbying for a non-racial football body to be established (Alegi, 2004). Many changes were in store for the early 1990s.
South Africa re-enters international football
With movements towards unity already afoot in the early 1990s, a non-racial football association was established. The divisions within the administration of football finally came to an end when the four different associations, representing black, white, Indian and coloured players, were merged into the South African Football Association (SAFA). Consequently, Fifa granted South Africa membership status in 1992 at its congress in Zurich. Football was mooted as being a forerunner in signalling the “new” South Africa, given its popular black support, and South Africa’s re-entry into international football prefaced the wider political negotiations. South Africa beat Cameroon 1–0 in its first game after re-entry and the initial success of Bafana Bafana – translated literally as “boys boys” – partly transcended the fractious history of the sport in the country.
Carried by the wave of democratisation and spectacular early feats in different sporting codes, the early-to-mid-1990s heralded a golden era for South African sport and for football in particular. The football team’s achievements, often attributed to “Mandelamania”, included being champions of the African Cup of Nations. According to Fifa’s world rankings, South Africa was ranked as high as sixteenth in the world during the mid-1990s.
Despite various problems with the formation of a non-racial football body, the foundations were being laid for South African football to undergo steady change on a national level consistent with the broader societal changes. The chief custodians overseeing the transformation of football were the Department of Sport and Recreation, SAFA and the South African Sports Commission2. Unlike the other major sporting codes in South Africa, football had an abundance of black talent. Yet rapid progress needed to be made in terms of the upgrading of existing and building of new football facilities and infrastructure. Importantly, under-21 leagues and supporting structures needed to be established in order to ensure a continuous stream of good players through the ranks.
Despite the many contradictions that emerged in the new South Africa, sport’s role in helping to strengthen a still fragile national identity was undeniable. South Africa had successfully negotiated the tricky transition period and averted a civil war. Football’s role in helping to strengthen and mould this malleable national identity was clearly evident. However, after the honeymoon period of democratisation, some of the initial good work came undone. Not unlike most other sporting codes in South Africa, football was plagued by a number of issues both on and off the field. Among them were issues related to the overall competence of SAFA, South African players’ commitments to overseas clubs above the national team, and issues around sponsorship and ownership.
By late 2008, South Africa had dropped to eighty-fifth place in the world rankings and did not even qualify for the 2006 Fifa World Cup. Part of the problem was that when South Africa re-entered world football, the game was a very different entity to what it had been before isolation. Having been ostracised from World Cups and the African Cup of Nations tournaments – and also not having been allowed to play friendly matches with Fifa members – South Africa, black and white, had maintained tenuous links with the organisational, technical and economic changes that had revolutionised world football in the 1970s and 1980s (Alegi, 2004).
Crucial political developments took place within the governance of the game, developments which would later play directly South Africa’s favour as host nation. Rather fortuitously for South Africa, the political changes occurring within world football in the latter half of the twentieth century happened to coincide with the political changes taking place in South Africa. A gradual democratisation took place within the governance structures of world football in the latter half of the twentieth century and South Africa re-entered international football in the 1990s, just in time to capitalise on the steadily mounting pressure for an African-hosted World Cup.
Although South Africa struggled to convince its African counterparts of its suitability to represent the continent after years of white rule under apartheid, the country sought to project itself as a significantly reformed, modern, industrialised African state, ideally situated to further the cosmopolitan ideals and development of world football. Eager to shake off its former pariah image and consistent with various initiatives adopted by state and corporate elites in the early 1990s, South Africa was quick to read the mood in world football circles and did not waste any time trying to seize the initiative. Because of its largely peaceful transition and relative success in overcoming a history of racial discrimination, South Africa was also steadily being viewed as an ideal candidate to further the increasingly developmental focus of world football, particularly on the African continent. For a complex set of political and economic reasons, and arguably also through sheer luck and timing, South Africa managed to wrest the ascendancy from other, more established African contenders that, in purely footballing terms, were more deserving of host status.
Despite what was happening in football and parallel to this, sport – in particular major sporting events – took on increased importance for the post-apartheid South African government. Having outlined the nature of the role played by South Africa in international football, the next section looks more closely at the recent history of post-apartheid South African state and corporate elites’ drive to host sports mega-events, leading up to the decision to enter the bidding process for 2010.
South Africa enters the bidding process
During the early phases of democracy, sporting events were central to the statecraft exercises of state and corporate elites. Thus winning the rights to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup was a direct consequence of concerted and sustained efforts by state and corporate elites to attract sports mega-events for predominantly two reasons. Firstly, bid protagonists usually stressed the crucial economic and developmental corollaries such events would bring, fusing conventional political discourse with a developmental philosophy. Secondly, and related, is the promotion of a particular notion of Africa and the idea of an African revival consistent with the rhetoric propagated through more conventional political initiatives like the African Renaissance (Cornelissen & Swart, 2006). Therefore, it was not long before the South African government sought host status for the 2006 and later 2010 Fifa World Cups, having already successfully hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 1996 African Cup of Nations, the 1999 All African Games and the 2003 Cricket World Cup.
The 1995 Rugby World Cup proved cathartic for South Africa at a time when the nation was galvanised through the “one team, one nation” slogan. The slogan, which extended into the identity building of the “Rainbow Nation”, became a cornerstone of Mandela’s presidency. However, closer inspection suggests that the lustre of the event was quick to dissipate, largely in light of ongoing transformation squabbles as a result of rugby’s pervasive image as a white, Afrikaans sport (Black & Nauright, 1998; Booth, 1996; Grundlingh, 1998; Steenveld & Strelitz 1998).
After successfully hosting the Rugby World Cup, South African political and corporate elites strategically seized the opportunity of hosting various pan-African events, such as the African Cup of Nations and the All African Games, to recreate some of the country’s mega-event glory, for which the Rugby World Cup had set high standards. These events were also supposed to signal South Africa’s emergent African identity, following years of white rule under apartheid. South Africa won and successfully hosted the 1996 African Cup of Nations with the kind of euphoria which had marked the Rugby World Cup. However, setbacks were also to follow: South Africa lost the bid for both the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 Fifa World Cup.
The idea of hosting the 2006 Fifa World Cup was first mooted in the early 1990s. It was envisioned that the event would have three primary objectives. Firstly, it would encourage capital construction and heighten the country’s international visibility for the purposes of attracting tourism. Secondly, it would elicit national pride, and thirdly, it would offer local power brokers in government, sport, media and business an opportunity to renegotiate or consolidate their role in the “new” South Africa. The 2006 bid also relied heavily on an emotive posturing of Africa similar to that used in the 2010 Fifa World Cup bid, by appealing to the socioeconomic marginalisation of Africa. South Africa lost the bid to Germany by one vote (Alegi, 2001). South Africa came under criticism for not doing all in its power to secure enough votes. The presence of then president Mandela at the final voting round would also have helped. However, in hindsight these setbacks were learning curves for the country, and should the event have been awarded at that stage, it could have proved logistically problematic (Cornelissen, 2004a, 2004b; Griffiths, 2000).
South Africa’s decision to co-host the 2003 Cricket World Cup with Zimbabwe and Kenya went one step further in affirming the country’s African identity, while also being consistent with a pattern of foreign policy initiatives by president Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki. The event was tied into President Mbeki’s vision to rejuvenate the African continent socially and economically through the African Renaissance. The overall “African Safari” motif of the tournament, which became the strategic marketing approach of choice, sought to stamp a uniquely “Africanised” version of a game bequeathed on former colonies by British imperialism, and aimed to broaden the cultural base of the game. What made the Cricket World Cup all the more interesting was the implicit attempt to undo a sport which had associated itself with the “civilising” mission of the British Empire. By “Africanising” the Cricket World Cup, South Africa was implicitly trying to reconfigure not only the hegemonic order of international cricket, but also the broader inequalities between the Anglo-Saxon world and Africa (Van der Merwe & Van der Westhuizen, 2007).
Although South Africa’s choice of Zimbabwe as co-host produced unnecessary political tensions – it contradicted the overarching theme of the African Renaissance, exacerbated tensions between the Afro-Asian and Anglo-Saxon contours within the cricket playing Commonwealth, and highlighted the weaknesses of South Africa’s overall foreign policy towards Zimbabwe – on a technical level South Africa was quite successful in dispelling the “myth” that Africa was not suited to hosting such events (Van der Merwe & Van der Westhuizen, 2007). South Africa’s appropriation of the event, coupled with the manner in which the event was punted by the state, corporate elites and the media, revealed the country’s continental and international aspirations. These aspirations were well capped by South Africa’s successful bid for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. The bid was largely motivated as an “African” bid and tied into the “10 years of democracy” celebrations just after the April 2004 general elections. After failing the first time, South Africa rejuvenated its quest to host “the beautiful game” by appealing fervently through the well-publicised slogan, “It’s Africa’s Turn.”
What made this round of bidding truly unique in the history of the World Cup was the rotational system introduced by Fifa, which induced a continent-wide scramble for the rights to host the event. The sentiment was that Fifa had done something for Africa that it had never before done in the history of the World Cup. It had levelled the bidding playing fields. Africa had to compete with Europe and South America only on the field of play – and not against their beautiful cities and strong infrastructure. After Brazil was awarded the 2014 event the rotational system was subsequently revoked in 2007, adding to the exceptional nature of the decision for the African continent.
From the outset, the 2010 event was always going to be hosted by an African nation – just which nation was to articulate this vision remained contested. Although there were moments when South Africa was unsure whether it would secure host status – followed closely as it was by an aspirant Morocco that managed to secure 10 of the final votes, and by an equally buoyant yet shy-on-votes Egypt – for the most part South Africa was self-assured after having successfully hosted a string of sporting events. With South Africa having arguably the strongest sporting, transport, media and hospitality infrastructure and facilities in Africa, partly a legacy of its apartheid past, the country had good reason to be confident.
Despite the structural problems due to apartheid and the almost 30 years out in the political wilderness, South Africa seemed an old favourite and a relatively known quantity, largely because of the stature and moral authority it had accrued within the international community in a relatively short period since readmission. From the viewpoint of Fifa, hosting the World Cup in Africa provided an opportunity to further globalise the sport and had an explicit political edge.
This paper reflected on the role played by South Africa in international Fifa and World Cups, and its increased significance because of its apartheid history. Although the steady inclusion of African states in World Cups is perhaps most clearly demonstrated through the structural changes made to the tournament in the twentieth century, these trends have been strengthened and paralleled by broader cultural, political and socioeconomic forces. An African Fifa World Cup not only forms part of a broader drive towards a more equitable international footballing order, but also towards a more equitable realignment between Africa and the developed world more generally. Hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup therefore promises to be a crowning achievement of not only South Africa’s re-entry into the international community, but also for Africa’s journey towards a more equitable and just global order.