WAS it all worth it? Six years after SA hosted the 2010 soccer World Cup, this remains a difficult question to answer.
It was, on the face of it, a no-brainer. SA got to be the centre of global attention, putting on a major event that ran efficiently, one that was characterised by wonderful hospitality and that enhanced our reputation as a tourist destination.
It was also an exercise in nation-building, as South Africans pulled together to “prove the Afro-pessimists wrong” by staging a world-class event.
But in order for all of this to occur, a number of heady sacrifices had to be made, some financial, some ethical and some just plain illegal.
Read more of my article in the Financial Mail
The Sunday Times published an extract from The Big Fix – How South Africa Stole the 2010 World Cup. Read it here
In June 2010, the richest World Cup ever kicked off as delirious South African fans gathered in a rare act of national unity to make the world’s biggest sporting event a success. The magnificent new stadiums were packed and the streets were safe. It all went off like clockwork.
But behind this impressive achievement lay billions in wasted public money, crooked companies rigging construction tenders and the fixing of a string of matches involving the national team. Tragically, one of those who blew the whistle would pay with his life.
Then, in May 2015, the arrest of Fifa executives revealed that the tournament’s very foundations were rotten. Evidence emerged that South Africa had encouraged Fifa to pay money to a corrupt member of its executive to secure three votes in favour of its hosting the tournament.
As Sepp Blatter’s Fifa edifice crumbled, a web of transactions, from New York to Trinidad and Tobago and the Cayman Islands, showed how money was diverted to ensure that South Africa’s bid to host the tournament succeeded.
In The Big Fix, Ray Hartley reveals the truth about the rotten foundation on which an epic national achievement was built, exposing the people who used the event to amass wealth and power. This is the real story of the 2010 World Cup.
First, a bit about the picture. It was a cold and misty morning and Franschhoek is probably the most photogenic town in the country. I took this early in the morning on my way to the session on my book with the iPhone.
So the very first event around The Big Fix took place upstairs at The Elephant and Barrel, which you rightly gather from the name is the town’s biggest drinking hole. So there was the faint aroma of stale beer and cigarettes in the air as I discussed the book.
The event was sold out. It was great to be interviewed by the Cape Talk/702 presenter Mike Wills, who had done his homework and asked great – and sometimes, difficult – questions.
I know you don’t care about the great questions, so let’s move straight on to a ‘difficult’ one that comes up a lot. It is the issue of ‘Wasn’t this the only way to get the World Cup? They’re all bought, aren’t they?’
The argument goes that you have to do what it takes to secure the hosting rights. Who could blame South Africa for doing this when the benefits to the country were so enormous?
My answer is that this is a dangerous attitude. What you are arguing is that you entrust leaders to engage in corruption when they believe it is in the national interest. This immediately reduces bribery from a crime to a necessary nuisance. It goes without saying that if you are to fight corruption, you have to be opposed to it in ALL INSTANCES, even when it appears to harm your interests.
Incidentally, I think the supposed ‘benefits’ of holding the World Cup have been exaggerated. The economic benefits have simply not accrued and we now have very expensive and unsustainable stadiums that ratepayers are going to finance for a long time. If there is a benefit it is that the nation stood together and supported this event with such love and enthusiasm that it showed what was possible. But once the event was over, we went back to our old ways, didn’t we?
I have just got the first copies of my new book ‘The Big Fix – How South Africa Stole the 2010 World Cup’.
The 2010 World Cup was a magnificent event of which South Africa was very proud. But, the sad truth is that this great event was eaten hollow by the worms of greed and corruption, from the way in which the right to host it was secured to the rigging of construction contracts, the fixing of Bafana Bafana games and even the murder of a municipal speaker who raised questions about corruption. From banks accounts in the Cayman Islands to the Fifa money-machine, it was a feasting ground for greedy politicians and administrators.
I felt I had to write this story because this country is owed an honest account of one of its seminal moments. It was hard to do this knowing how fondly this nation remembers pulling together to make it happen, but I simply couldn’t ignore the uncomfortable truth.