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Society, Politics & Law

Hopes of a host nation

Updated Thursday, 10th June 2010

Kath Woodward explores how the hopes of South Africa will be lifted by the World Cup.

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The build up to 2010 hasn’t been all about tactics or even all about football. There is a lot riding on the first men’s World Cup to be held in Africa, not least for South Africa the host nation, sixteen years after the end of apartheid.

Sport has the capacity to draw people in to its emotional flows and intensities as well as to entertain. The discipline that goes into high achievement and the collective activity of its embodied pursuits mean that a sport like football can be a source of national pride and identification.

South Africa, for example, has been renamed the Rainbow Nation in an attempt to heal the deep racialised divisions of the apartheid regime. After the first all-race elections in 1994, sport became a medium for delivering messages of racial reconciliation. During the rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg in 1995, the first black president Nelson Mandela won over white sceptics by donning a Springboks shirt in an event celebrated in heroic Hollywood film narrative in Invictus.

Springbok rugby supporter


Cricket and rugby are preferred sports of white South Africans
Photo by Anne Laing.Copyright SA Tourism

Positive politics

In 2010, there is a positive politics in play as is manifest in the surge of national pride in the country as it prepares to host the competition from which it had been excluded during the boycotts of the apartheid years. Hopes are pinned not only on economic regeneration and investment in infrastructure, which such a mega sports event could bring, but also the powerfully unifying national identifications of the World Cup, which could be stronger than in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Even in Europe, where commercial interests and celebrity superstars dominate the sporting agenda and national attachments might appear to have been diluted, the World Cup provides a moment, every four years, when club affiliations might be superseded. This proves football matters, as the euphoric build up to the 2010 men’s World Cup in South Africa has demonstrated. In spite of anxieties about whether South African fans would want or, more importantly be able to afford to buy tickets, it was a sell-out on the first day.

Local heroes

Cricket and rugby have been the preferred sports of the minority white South Africans, so football may offer more possibilities for participation, the dominance of European football and the Premiership notwithstanding. Many African stars play in Europe but are still local heroes, like Didier Drogba. Chelsea may pay his wages and provide the medium for his success but he is also seen as a representative and even an ambassador for his country. National attachments can of course be conservative and even reactionary, as some debates about the deployment of the flag of St George by England fans aligned to behaviour at grounds and, more likely, in the environs of grounds have shown. Such attachments, however, can also be productive, as we are witnessing in South Africa in 2010 when the World Cup comes to African for the first time.

Find out more

Delve into the world of sociology with a range of Open University courses

See a special street-level World Cup blog from the OU's student and alumni community site, Platform

Linking images to this article: Copyright SA Tourism





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