South Africa’s original bid book for the 2010 World Cup finals shows how the event was charged with political import. “We want to ensure that, one day, historians will reflect upon the 2010 World Cup as a moment when Africa stood tall and resolutely turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict,” wrote president Thabo Mbeki in a letter to Sepp Blatter. “We want to show that Africa’s time has come.”
Skeptical western journalists were branded “Afro-pessimists” during the buildup to the tournament, and its successful, even joyous organization was seen as a landmark in the national story 16 years after the end of apartheid. Questioning its integrity with grubby allegations of bribes is therefore more sensitive and sacrilegious here than in any other host country: tread softly because you tread on our dreams.
“It depresses me so much I don’t want to think about it,” said Carlos Amato, a journalist with South Africa’s Sunday Times. “It’s such a travesty that this is deemed, rightly or wrongly, to have been bought. It’s just horrible.”
But while grief at the tainted symbolism is universal, there are mixed opinions over both the US justice department’s motives and the loss of man who oversaw hundreds of football development projects in Africa. Amato believes Blatter deserves some acknowledgement but will not be missed. Oshebeng Alphie Koonyaditse, author of The Politics of South African Football, said: “There is a saying, first impression lasts – in this case it actually is last impression lasts longer. For all the good that Blatter has done, history will forever remember him as the man who nearly ripped Fifa apart.”
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