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World Cup Notes

2010 June 7
by Skip Sauer

I think hosting the World Cup in South Africa may be too large a burden for a smallish developing country:  population 49 million, with per capita income $10,000.  With $6 billion invested in infrastructure, security, etc, the tab would come to about $122 per capita, which is not outrageously high, but is more than a trivial sum.  This is also a substantial sum relative to public revenues of about $75 billion.  Unlike Greece, however, South Africa’s finances are in good shape, with public debt at about 36% of GDP in 2009.  The World Cup won’t help matters on this score, but thus bulge in public investment won’t break the bank.

The positive side of the World Cup in South Africa is that it heralds an ongoing transformation in the country.  It is perhaps capable of countering the view “that Africa is a place of disease, despair, death and destruction, no matter how much progress gets made on the political front,” as Michigan State’s Peter Alegi puts it.  This story in USAToday,  ”For South Africa, the World Cup is finally a time to shine” looks at both the positives and the negatives for the country.  There are plenty of both.

As for the chances of our national team, I rate our chances of progressing past the group stage at about 50-50.  England is a powerhouse, and Slovenia will provide a tough test.  The US will likely need to beat at least win one of those rivals to have a chance going into the final match vs. Algeria, although two draws would work if England beat Slovenia.

Why is the United States a second-rate soccer power?  Patrick Rishe discusses the economic factors in his column at Forbes.com.  If he’s right, an upset against England might put some fuel in the American soccer engine.  Meanwhile, folks in Boston are salivating over the prospect of hosting World Cup games in 2018 or 2022, for which the USA is planning to bid.   I hope they get the chance, even if the economic impact numbers are inflated.  Meanwhile, the opening game of the 2010 World Cup is just four days away, and England vs. USA is Saturday.  Come on USA!  Beat England!!

4 Responses
  1. Greg Pinelli permalink
    June 7, 2010

    Hosting the Cup “may” be too large a burden for SA? Ya think? The per capita income cited is in reality disbursed very unevenly. FIFA made a simple political decision in giving SA the Cup..no African nation had ever hosted one and there was only one logical choice on a desperately poor continent.

    There will be a huge soccer rush in the nation for a month…and then will come the very long aftermath of paying for stadiums that have very limited usefulness in a country with NO world class soccer league..only rugby. By the way..that $6 billion greatly underestimates the true costs when interest, ongoing maintenance and opportunity costs are thrown in…and that for a nation that has extreme problems producing enough electricity for local consumption.

    As for US soccer…the real talent pool is a mile wide and an inch deep. I coached elite youth teams for over a decade and almost all the best athletic talent either ended up in baseball, basketball or American football…there is also another little nasty secret about ongoing youth selection for movement up the national team chain…it is dominated by credential rich, imagination bereft coaches. Look at almost any US National team at any age group..including our representatives at the Cup. It is chock full of hard working midfielders..at EVERY position! American soccer coaches LOVE young busy bodies..and that’s what we have. Will this Cup team move to the 2nd round? Decent chance..beyond that…no chance. Defense wins real championships and our team is small, weak in ball skills and slow in the back compared to the powerhouses.

  2. June 8, 2010

    Greg’s spot on about how US soccer youth development works. I would add two things: (1) unlike most countries, money drives youth soccer — pay-for-play, never-ending tournaments, branded equipment and so on, and (2) there is a lot of talent in American soccer, but the kids who tend to make the select squads come from white, suburban and often Anglo backgrounds.

    Regarding South Africa, I would just mention that (A) the domestic Premier Soccer League is among the top 10 richest leagues in the world as a result of TV deal and naming rights sponsorships, and (B) that the World Cup has done nothing for grassroots soccer in the country, let alone addressing the gaping inequalities of the past and present.

  3. Ken permalink
    June 8, 2010

    The world cup is not a magic economic bullett that suddenly increase per capita income and do away with poverty. Take a look at countries that have hosted in the past, some income disparity is still vast. However, what it would do to south africa is the exposure to international interest and economic activity.
    The hope is that the infranstructure put in place for the world cup will help spur economic growth. The new airports, the new roads, the new transit system and routes will certainly move south africa up a notch in development. How it is manageged after the world cup is all that matters. If the country just relax and say ok, back to normal then it will lag behind. But if it takes this opportunity to seek investement and capital then it can flourish. Good luck SA.

  4. Tom permalink
    June 9, 2010

    To be fair, I think the cup has done some things for grassroots soccer in South Africa because each venue and each team has fixed up training grounds. These grounds are often small club stadiums in poorer areas.

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