There has been a lot of discussion about the problems within Australia’s national A-League football (“soccer”) competition, with some even fearing that it is on the verge of collapse. Maybe that won’t happen, but there are signs that things aren’t looking good. In September, Newcastle Jets became the latest club to be provided with an emergency loan. The league’s governing body, Football Federation Australia (FFA) agreed to provide short term financial assistance so the club could pay its players.
In recent weeks, media commentary on the use of illicit drugs by professional sports players has exploded again. The first cause was the recently retired Australian rules football star and recovering drug addict Ben Cousin’s documentary Such is Life: The Troubled Times of Ben Cousins. It aired on Channel 7 on August 25 and 26. The second was the overdose on GHB of Travis Tuck, a player for Australian Football League (AFL) club Hawthorn, on August 27.
Acting against our alleged “ambush marketing” and “incitement”, the South African Police Service, newly augmented with 40,000 additional cadre for the World Cup, detained several of us in Durban on July 3. We were exercising freedom of expression at our favorite local venue — the South Beach Fan Fest. Wearing hidden microphones to tape discussions with police leadership, what we learned was chilling.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa began its final round of 16 on June 26. it came amid the unrelenting drone of vuvuzela horns, the knockout of big teams such as Italy and France, and street protests by local residents angry at the 40 billion rand the government has spent on the corporatised event. Meanwhile, South Africa’s poor suffer substandard housing and access to basic services. Football, or “soccer” in Australia, is the “world game”, played by millions of people around the world and watched by hundreds of millions more. But is it truly the “people’s game”?
Many Australian football fans left Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium early on June 13 following Australia’s particularly dismal four-nil loss against Germany. Had they remained they would have witnessed scenes more dramatic than any that had unfolded on the field, when police violently attacked 500 stewards striking over a pay dispute.
On June 11, South Africans will start partying like no time since liberation in April 1994. It is a huge honour for our young democracy to host the most important sporting spectacle short of the Olympics. The ordinary people who have worked hard in preparation deserve gratitude and support — especially the construction workers, cleaners, municipal staff, health-care givers and volunteers who will not receive due recognition. But balancing psychological benefits against vast socioeconomic and political costs is vital.
Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football by Ian Hawkey Anova Books, 2009, $24.95
More Than Just A Game: Football v Apartheid, The most important football story ever told by Chuck Korr & Marvin Close Harper Collins, 2008, $25.99 The world is in the final stages of counting down to the biggest show on earth — the football World Cup in South Africa — the first time it has ever been held on the African continent.
As Tiger Woods returns to golf, not all his affairs are salacious headlines. In Dubai, the Tiger Woods Golf Course is costing $100 million to build. Dubai relies on cheap Third World labour, as do certain consumer brands that have helped make Woods a billionaire. Nike workers in Thailand wrote to Woods, expressing their “utmost respect for your skill and perseverance as an athlete” but pointing out that they would need to work 72,000 years “to receive what you will earn from [your Nike] contract”.