For the next three weeks, South Africa will put (part of) their insidious multi-billion dollar 2010 World Cup investment back to work as new host of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Will the second-round of hosting duty compensate for their financial gamble? No, but that’s not to discredit the extent to which hosting re-bolsters the country’s sense of national pride.
Though Libya won the original bid to host the international soccer tournament, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) retracted their privilege in light of the country’s ongoing political instability. The tournament, January 19 to February 10, kicks off in Johannesburg and pits 16 of the continent’s nations against each other for the honor of representing the CAF at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil later this year.
The Rainbow Nation, which shelled out roughly $2 billion in stadium development alone for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, is thrilled to be back at the helm of global football headlines. In the run-up to Saturday's inaugural match between South Africa and Cape Verde in Johannesburg, Damian Johnson of the BBC noted the atmosphere, saying, “There's saturation coverage on the TV, the newspapers are full of it and all the chat in bars, restaurants and online is about what happens over the next three weeks. It is the only story in town. Putting aside the hype, you can't help but be moved by the camaraderie and sense of mission among the competing nations.”
One of the greatest sources of 2010 Cup-related contention stemmed from what critics deemed an egregious amount of spending on new stadiums — or “white elephants,” if you happened to catch the rather unsavory account in the New York Times of South Africa one year post-tournament. A year after the last FIFA match wrapped at Soccer City, stadium employees were being paid to cut the grass on which no one ever played. From a superficial standpoint, it seems a reasonable enough argument that a major sporting event witnessed by billions the world over could create a substantial economic impact for its host. Unfortunately, there is a significant misalignment between the social perception of a mega-event and its true economic impact. For South Africa then, as the host of the first World Cup on African soil, and South Africa now, the elated host of their continent’s Cup of nations, glory may be measured in intangible benefits, like national pride, but sustainability of their investments beyond that is highly debatable at best.
Bleacher Report will provide a comprehensive listing of standings, results and photos of the soccer mania over the coming weeks. Five-time favorite-to-win Ivory Coast may finally get theirs this year if captain, former Chelsea striker, and continental superstar Didier Drogba has his way. Other teams to watch: defending 2012 Champions Zambia, and Ghana, who despite having not clinched a Nations’ victory in 30 years, are expected to do well.