Football matters: for some, this World Cup changes everything

The tournament’s unifying legacy is an important building block for South Africa.

A couple of weeks ago in the New Statesman (5 July edition), Stefan Szymanski argued that the football World Cup benefited only Fifa. His main contention was that the tournament would not be economically successful in a country desperately in need of funds for projects more life-enhancing than the construction of showpiece stadiums.

Moreover, while admitting that the public might derive "a significant feel-good factor" from the event, Szymanski dismissed this, essentially because there are "more serious" things to be worrying about in South Africa.

This view needs challenging. First, on a tangible level, the positive impact of the World Cup for South Africa is becoming apparent. Szymanski cites the springtime prediction by Grant Thornton, consultant to the organising committee, that visitors to South Africa would reach 373,000.

Fewer than 400,000 tourists -- especially when compared to the hope, back in 2004, for a figure more like 600,000 -- would have represented an economic disaster for the country.

Pass me that vuvuzela

Luckily predictions don't always come true. Even the initial estimates, long regarded as desperately optimistic, fell short. Despite varying figures, it is clear that more than a million people passed through South African airports during the World Cup period.

The economic impact of such tourism is obvious. The vuvuzela-toting visitor needs food, a bed, maybe even a safari. Indeed, although the levels of success remain regional -- for example, Johannesburg appears to have done better than Cape Town -- the recent news from retailers and hotels has been extremely positive.

So, money is coming in to South Africa. Moreover, the World Cup has given much-needed impetus to internal development. Szymanski argues that money spent on stadiums should have been spent on infrastructure instead.

But money has been spent on infrastructure. The impressive Gautrain, which opened in June, ferried hundreds of thousands of customers to the airport over the World Cup period. And this is not just some fleeting project, to be abandoned when all the excitement dies down: the line is to be extended across Johannesburg and will reach Pretoria. It will be invaluable to commuters.

Other projects sprouting from the World Cup will have a direct impact on the lives of South Africans. Fifa itself has parted with £46m for 20 Football for Hope projects that provide health and education services as well as sport. Many who came for the tournament, such as the AC Milan star Clarence Seedorf, are launching similar programmes.

But even more important than these concrete moves are the feelings of pride and unity that this World Cup gave to South Africans. They, more than anyone, doubted that their country could pull it off.

So, while the new stadiums might seem like mere "eye candy" to Szymanski, in South Africa they have become icons.

The pride in poverty-stricken Soweto at being the home of Soccer City, one of the world's biggest and most modern stadiums, is palpable.

Excitement that lasts

On another note, South Africa's problems with crime prompted ominous predictions. But the fast-track policing and judicial systems used were so effective that they are to be employed in the future.

Crime, though, was not just low because of effective prevention and enforcement. The "feel-good factor" identified by Szymanski must not be underestimated. The month felt like one huge carnival to South Africans, who danced in the streets in their South African, then Ghanaian, then Argentinian, then Dutch, then Spanish gear as their chosen team was eliminated at each stage. Most did not wish to crash their own party.

Crucially, this excitement is mutating into something more lasting. The legacy of apartheid still hovers in South Africa. In sport, as reflected in the national teams, football is largely regarded as a black activity, rugby being the white man's choice. But this World Cup (and this is a view espoused by many commentators in South Africa) has done more than almost anything else to bring people together.

Not only did the country unite around the national team, but it then united to an extraordinary extent (though no more than we would have done for France or Germany, should they have been flying the flag for Europe) around Ghana as the last African team left in the competition. White South Africans streamed into Soweto, home of the apartheid resistance movement and a place many had never been before. They immersed themselves in a culture almost foreign to them.

As we queued at the turnstiles in Soccer City to watch the Ghana v Uruguay quarter-final, an Afrikaner in front of us took it upon himself to teach anyone who would listen the best technique for blowing the vuvuzela. A white South African, in Soweto, passionately supporting a black African country, embracing something distinctive to local culture. The connotations are unifying and transformative for the new South Africa.

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Chuka Umunna: Why tolerance is not enough

Against the Trumpification of politics.

It’s still spring, yet 2016 already stands out as one of the ugliest years in modern British political history. It was fantastic to see Londoners choosing hope over fear in May, electing Sadiq Khan as our first Muslim mayor. But David Cameron, having shamelessly endorsed Zac Goldsmith’s dog-whistle campaign tactics, owes those young Muslims who have been put off politics by the slurs hurled at Khan an explanation. How does racial profiling and sectarian scaremongering fit into his One Nation vision for Britain?

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, one of the best bets to succeed Cameron as our next prime minister, embarrassed Britain on the world stage with a racially charged allusion to Barack Obama’s Kenyan heritage. And my own party has been grappling with a swath of deeply disturbing revelations regarding the attitudes held by some on the left towards Israel and Jewish people. Sowing discord by stigmatising or scapegoating a single faith group or community is profoundly at odds with the British tradition of “tolerance”, but we can’t ignore that this year’s events are part of a rising trend of friction and factionalism.

Last year’s general election should have been a wake-up call. The political and cultural divides between people living in the north and south and urban and rural areas – as well as between working-class and metropolitan sensibilities – appear starker than ever. In May’s devolved elections, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish politics became yet more distinct – giving the impression of a kingdom coming apart at the seams. All the while, more and more voices in our national politics seek to pin the blame for the challenges facing our country on a single section of society, whether immigrants, Muslims or another group.

This trend stretches beyond our borders. From Ukip, the French Front National and Austria’s Freedom Party to Podemos in Spain and Italy’s Five Star Movement, new populist parties of the right and left are on the rise across Europe. In the United States, Bernie Sanders is tapping into the energy of Occupy Wall Street, while Donald Trump has emerged as the heir to the Tea Party: a poster boy for division and recrimination.

Trump’s rise should be a warning for us Brits. The New York Times commentator David Brooks has described his success as less indicative of the emergence of a new school of thought, or movement, and more of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Trump’s campaign has tapped into a complex cocktail of grievances, from the loss of manufacturing jobs in a globalised economy to rising inequality and raw anger felt by many white working-class Americans at demographic and cultural changes.

In the run-up to last year’s general election, as I travelled around the country, I was confronted time and time again with the reality that in the UK – just like in the US – people are afraid and angry because the world is changing in ways they fear are beyond their control. Where once they had believed that, if they worked hard, they would get ahead, too many Britons now feel that the system is rigged in favour of those born into opportunity and that those in power have abandoned them to a broken future. What it means to be British seems to have shifted around them, triggering a crisis of solidarity.

We are at a crossroads and may face nothing less than the Trumpification of British politics. In an uncertain and changing world, it is all too easy to imagine that our problems are caused by those who are different from us.

If we wish to follow the fine example set by Londoners on 5 May and choose unity and empathy over division and blame, we must accept that simply “tolerating” one another will no longer do. There is an accusation built into the very word: what you are doing is “other” or “wrong”. As Britain has become more diverse, we have come to know each other less. This makes it harder to understand how people from different walks of life feel about the big issues.

I am a Labour member because I believe, as it says on our membership cards, that, by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more together than we do alone. In order to develop the bonds of trust required for this to become a reality, and for our communities to flourish and our democracy to deliver for everyone, we must build a society in which people from all backgrounds actually get to know one another and lead interconnected lives. In this sense, “One Nation” – the land over which all parties seek purchase – should become more than a platitude. It should become a way of life.

Chuka Umunna is Labour MP for Streatham.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad