South Africa looks to build on success of World Cup

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — So now what? What happens after the World Cup?

South Africa successfully hosted the world's largest sports tournament, a huge organizational undertaking that many feared would be too much of a challenge for the developing nation. As the country says farewell to thousands of visitors, camera crews and soccer stars, it is also pondering what will be the tournament’s legacy.

Over the past month, South Africa has put its best face forward, showcasing spectacular stadiums and modern transportation systems to a worldwide audience. The World Cup's success has instilled immense pride among South Africans, but it has also raised expectations. Now that the last ball has been kicked many here expect bigger and better things for their country.

“I think it’s going to take the country forward,” said Bernard Klaassens, a 32-year-old Johannesburg resident who attended the World Cup final at Soccer City. “I really, really do.”

But exactly what awaits in South Africa’s future remains an open-ended question. While South Africa can reasonably count on a greater influx of tourists in years to come, it is from within that change is most expected.

“This is a spirit we should not lose now that the tournament has ended,” wrote the Times, a South African newspaper, in an editorial. “Let us build on what we achieved in the past month to make our country better.”

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In just two decades, the country has managed to transform itself from world pariah into world host, but the pace of change has been frustratingly slow for many South Africans whose living conditions haven’t improved much from the years of the apartheid regime.

By building infrastructure on time, setting up speedy World Cup courts and organizing an efficient police force, the South African government has shown a focus and urgency that has not always been on display when it came time to address the concerns of its citizens.

Political analyst Steven Friedman said the World Cup has served to demonstrate to skeptics that the government can be competent if need be.

“I think the World Cup showed that the government knows what to do,” Friedman said. “The problem is that it hasn’t had enough pressure.”

Friedman said the South African government achieved success at the World Cup because it had FIFA, soccer’s governing body, breathing down its neck. The African National Congress has had a stranglehold on power ever since the first democratic election was held in 1994 and South Africans, because of their loyalty to the party of freedom fighters or a lack of political alternatives, have been reluctant to sanction the government’s missteps.

The World Cup “could have a very positive long-term effect if citizens do what they should do” and apply pressure on the government to perform the same way FIFA did, Friedman said.

The business community is also looking to take advantage of the improved infrastructure, security and judicial systems and it’s poised to benefit directly from the experience acquired during the preparations for the tournament. Already, several South African companies involved in World Cup projects have been approached by organizers of the next edition of the tournament, which will take place in Brazil in 2014.

“The World Cup has formed a basis on which real opportunities can be built and the potential that it has provided must be worked on and expanded,” according to the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Perhaps the most logical next step for a country that pulled off the organization of a major sporting event is the hosting of another major sporting event.

South Africa is now replete with modern sporting facilities. The World Cup was not even over when  officials began clamoring to bid for the organization of other major competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and the Athletics World Championships. The country is even mulling a bid to host the 2020 Olympics, which FIFA President Sepp Blatter and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge have encouraged.

Were South Africa to bid for the Olympics, Durban would appear to have a leg up on rivals Johannesburg and Cape Town, whose own bid for the 2004 Olympics was unsuccessful. The city’s brand-new Moses Mabhida Stadium can easily be modified to host track and field events and Durban will host a major International Olympic Committee meeting next year, the first time an African city has done so.

FIFA abandoned its policy to rotate the organization of the World Cup between continents, but several countries have hosted more than one World Cup and nothing prevents South Africa from bidding to host the tournament again in the future.

“We have to see it again,” Klaassens said. “I’m sure it will come back one day.”