Friday, October 22, 2010

World Cup's Aftermath: Creating a Progressive Legacy

From the month of June to 11 July 2010, billions of people were treated to the cultural feast of young people participating in the 19th tournament of the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA). This was the world championship for soccer held every four years. In one of the most watched cultural spectacles (with over 700 million watching the final game), the young athletes from Spain emerged as the victors and carried home the World Cup. We congratulate the Spanish team and the Spanish working people who produced this team that defeated the Dutch team 1–0.

Of the 32 states that qualified to compete in this tournament, there were six African states. These six African states brought out the strengths and weaknesses of the preparations of Africans for competitions on the world stage. The major contribution of the World Cup in Africa was the strengthening of cultural pan-Africanism and the deepening of the bonds of solidarity and internationalism. Yet in the midst of this celebration of a cultural feast of people-to-people relations, we were reminded of the negative elements who hide behind religion for destruction. So at the same moment of watching the finals of the World Cup, more than 70 persons were killed in a bomb attack by a group that consider the playing of soccer sinful. The group that claimed responsibility for the bombings in Kampala has banned the playing and watching of the sport. It is this kind of extremism that we consider to be negative and we mourn the Ugandans and others who were killed in the attack on those watching the game in Kampala. These are the same forces who are against the cultural transformation of Africa and other oppressed parts of the world.

This bombing is a reminder that we must work for peace, and that peace must come with social justice.


The World Cup was a splendid example of the dialectics of the positive and the negative. On one side, there was the positive image of young athletes putting out their best in a sport loved by billions. Yet this sport at the international level is controlled by capitalists and a governing body that operates like a bulldozing transnational corporation. When the International Federation of Football Associations was founded in Europe, the game was the sport for the European working classes, with the Latin Americans added in later on. The history of expansion of the tournament beyond Europe and Latin America parallels the history of decolonisation and political independence in Africa and Asia. Because of the demands for inclusion from teams in Africa and Asia, the tournament was expanded to 24 teams in 1982, and then to 32 in 1998. Although this expansion allowed more teams from Africa, Asia and North America to take part, the European region enjoys greater numbers in the tournament.

That the tournament was hosted in Africa for the first time emanated from demands by Africans that the maturity of soccer in Africa deserved international recognition. Many reports from South Africa indicated that the FIFA management treated the South African state in the same way that other capitalist corporations treat governments. Capitalism has gone so berserk in the dying days of neoliberalism that even the mighty government of the United States is reaping the bitter harvest of the destructive capabilities of companies such as British Petroleum (BP), a company that has operated without regulatory supervision for decades. The South African state expended billions for the World Cup and the world will know very soon if the fine statements about support for the development of soccer in Africa will be real. The demand for the investment of resources for local and regional competition, especially for women’s soccer, must continue by those who want to end all forms of discrimination in sports.

While South Africa is basking and celebrating the hosting of a successful tournament, it is important to remind the world that FIFA morphed from a bureaucratic governing body for European football associations into a giant capitalist corporation. This corporation that presents itself as a non-profit foundation organises the sport to support individual capitalists who are involved in every aspect of soccer, from marketing and branding to hosting rights, broadcasting rights and other aspects which turn this sport into a commodity – earning billions for capitalists. Even before the first game was played FIFA said it had made a US$196 million surplus in 2009, as revenues soared to US$1.06 billion. The language of revenues and contracts overshadowed questions of skill, rules and goal line technologies that can assist in the further improvement of the game. Africans were made aware of the importance of goal line technologies when the Uruguayan player Luis Suárez used his hand to block a goal that would have taken Ghana to the semi-finals.

The profits from FIFA are supposed to be distributed to member associations and to developmental projects for the strengthening of the game, so Africans are watching to see how much of the profits from the 2010 World Cup will be reinvested in the sport around the continent. It will require vigilance and constant organising to ensure that the FIFA 'Win in Africa with Africa' initiative for social development and the various ‘Football for Hope’ programmes and centres are not just arenas of the kind of individuals that came to dominate the local organising committee of the World Cup in South Africa.

Thus far, soccer reproduces the hierarchy and the rankings of international and local capitalists. In Europe, the management of soccer is now big business and the marketing of English soccer clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal has been so successful that Africans expend hours deciding which European club they support. The Spanish capitalists have turned clubs such as Barcelona and Real Madrid into major enterprises to the point where these soccer clubs are at the top of the business of marketing and advertising in Spain. In the midst of this capitalist-intensive and profit-driven sport, Africans have been searching for levers for their own self-expression. South Africa tapped into the anti-apartheid pan-African network in order to gain the rights to host the 2010 World Cup. FIFA had decided that the tournament should rotate between continents and when it was the turn of Africa over five African countries were originally in the bid, namely Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Libya and Tunisia. It was the anti-apartheid history and legacies of South Africa that brought the tournament to South Africa. Nelson Mandela was brought out by the political and economic leadership of South Africa to lobby for the World Cup to be staged in the country. When the South Africans organised the African Union behind its bid, an alliance between the African Union and the Caribbean showed a formidable power bloc in cultural politics on the world stage. Mandela travelled to Trinidad, as well as many parts of the world in this international diplomacy of sports.

The state and the capitalists pulled out all of the resources of the society to host this tournament. The working people must now organise to ensure that this state is accountable and that the society provides the same safety and security for workers that was provided for international visitors.

That Nelson Mandela appeared at the closing ceremony was one indication of how the anti-apartheid heritages of South Africa are mobilised to serve the interest of capitalist giants epitomised by FIFA. Mandela had been an active sportsperson who had been associated with the massive campaigns to oppose apartheid in sports. Now that the tournament is over, the challenge is to place equal emphasis on the social and economic scourges of apartheid.


After the successful hosting of the World Cup, the peoples of South Africa will have to turn this cultural celebration into a vehicle to strengthen popular forces – the working people and the oppressed. Inside South Africa, the leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) – the ruling party – have abdicated their commitment to real transformation. However, the whole process of mobilising the society for the preparation and hosting of this spectacle created another platform and spaces for people to organise and to make their statement about the priorities of the country. The challenge for the progressive forces is to grasp the positive elements, expose the negative aspects and mobilise anti-racist and anti-capitalist networks that can challenge capitalist oppression more forcefully.

This anti-racist component of the World Cup was one of the most striking aspects of the tournament. To see teams unfurling banners calling on humans to fight racism was a manifestation of the depth of anti-racist struggle in Africa and in all parts of the world. That FIFA in its anti-discrimination platform dedicated itself to fighting against racism was one more evidence that the global anti-racist struggles was gaining ground. However, using the stage of the World Cup to make symbolic statements against racism can only be meaningful when anti-racist sentiments are translated into actions that challenge white supremacy in all its manifestations – whether in education, health, transportation, housing, economic relations and in the cultural arenas of the world. Throughout western Europe, African soccer players are exposed to racist taunts as xenophobic politicians whip up racism to disorganise white workers.

The struggles against xenophobia are worldwide and progressive South Africans must now raise their voices and organise forcefully against any kind of xenophobic division in southern Africa.


The spontaneous chants of 'BaGhana BaGhana' when Ghana's 'Black Stars' played against Uruguay brought to the forefront the depth of pan-African feelings inspiring a new internationalism. The Black Stars of Ghana acquitted themselves in this tournament. Although they were eliminated by Uruguay in the quarter-finals, they were not disgraced. The shout of 'BaGhana BaGhana' from the stadium showed the depth of the positive vibration, which was echoing to the world. Whether from Haiti, Houston, London or Lagos, millions of Africans rallied behind the Black Stars. The youth development programmes in Ghana, as in the rest of Africa, are now challenged to develop their facilities to nurture the talents that are to be found in every village and town around the continent. But as we could see from this World Cup, talent and skill will be insufficient for this kind of tournament. Steady heads, concentrated minds and discipline are ingredients that have to be developed at all levels of society for Africans to win the World Cup.


During the semi-finals, when Spain was playing against Germany, I watched the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel prancing with pride. This conservative chancellor had made herself clearly visible in the official box as one more effort to use the victory of Germany over Argentina to raise her political profile. For this reason, when the game between Germany and Spain came in the semi-finals, my sympathies were with the Spanish players. Knowing full well the present crisis within the Euro zone and the selfish attitude of German bankers and German capitalists, my view was that the victory should not be theirs in order to embolden the German ruling elite. This sympathy for Spain was conflictual because I am aware of how the Spanish treat African immigrants. Moreover, the German team was a truly multicultural one, reflecting a new Germany of Christians and Muslims, Turks and Germans, blacks and whites.

My Spanish sympathy persisted to the finals when on Sunday 11 July the team from Spain met the Dutch at Soccer City in Johannesburg. The quality of the soccer was not that high, and the Dutch team disgraced themselves by trying to use brute force instead of skill.

After two hours, Andrés Iniesta kept his cool, and driven by the spirit of Dani Jarque – a former RCD Espanyol player who passed away last year and with whom Iniesta was good friends – concentrated to bring the ball down and put it into the net. This spirit that drove Iniesta was the spirit of a young man, Dani Jarque, who joined the ancestors at the tender age of 26. When Iniesta scored the goal, he revealed this statement that he wanted to relate to the world about young people who died too early. It was a statement that Africans identify with in all parts of the world, because young Africans are dying both cultural and physical deaths as a result of the capitalist system. Spanish people need to take a cue from the team to work together against the proposed repressive measures that have been contemplated by international bankers to ostensibly rescue their economy.

In Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia and indeed all parts of the world, the collective spirit that was demonstrated in the World Cup must be taken to a new level to organise against capitalism and to truly emphasise that another anti-racist and peaceful world is possible.