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Ugly repercussions of the beautiful game

Regular readers of my personal blog will know I love football, though the game these days is not what it used to be (but then again what is?). For lovers of the beautiful game and especially those in Europe, the World Cup is the ultimate four weeks of summer football. Summer is usually a depressing time for football fans, with no games to watch. We scour daily newspapers, airwaves and pubs for the latest gossip on who is going where and for how much, and we can squeal at the outrageous sums our beloved heroes are paid and curse those who betray us by leaving for the enemy camp.

So the World Cup is a welcome release from the mundane daily football-free life of June and July. The next World Cup – just in case there are a few people out there who don’t know – will be held in 2010 in South Africa. South Africa has been preparing for the games for the past six years, building and refurbishing stadiums, hotels, roads, and undergoing all kinds of ‘beautification’ exercises which include relocating people from their homes and generally tearing down anything that looks remotely ‘poor’. In fact, the 2010 World Cup has become part of the war against the urban poor; thousands have been evicted from their homes in the 10 World Cup cities, and more evictions are expected. This war has led to many shack-dwellers refusing to vote, as one website reports:

‘The residents, wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan “No Houses, No Land, No Vote”, said COPE (the Congress of the People party) went as far as to offer to provide an advocate to help them in their court battle against their eviction… There are no election posters here… Anti-Eviction Campaign secretary Kareemah Linneveldt said they told parties not to put up posters because they would have no interest in elections until they had proper housing.

“For 13 months we have lived on the pavement and not a single politician visited us. Now everyone is offering us help,” she said.’

The irony of the World Cup-led gentrification in South Africa is that the origins of football in Britain lie in the working class heartlands of its cities and towns. Although the game has changed and many working people are excluded from live matches due to the outrageous cost of tickets, 99 per cent of football grounds remain in highly residential areas and are still very much part of the community with pubs, cafés and shops catering to the local fans.

It’s not just housing that is being swept away in the interest of gentrification in South Africa. The old street market in Warwick Road, Durban is being targeted for bulldozing, to be replaced by yet another monolithic lifeless shopping mall. Earlier this week members of the World Class Cities for All in Durban held a protest walkabout around the market.

‘It is as if eThekwini municipality knows full well that this municipal plan to dispose of a historic public asset in order to build yet another Western-style shopping mall in Durban runs counter to the interests of the poor and working-class communities of the city. It can only benefit the interests of the private sector property predators who have their eyes on this piece of prime public land,’ reported Streetnet.org.za.

Last week I was at an event in London where one person was praising the Lagos State Governor for ‘cleaning up’ the city, which included bulldozing squatter camps along the Ibadan Expressway. I was in Lagos at that time – one day the camp was there, the next it had been set on fire and bulldozed along with all the belongings the residents – men and women, old and young – could not carry as they ran away. Where had these people gone? How would they live now that they were a dispersed and displaced community? No one seemed to care. They only cared that they were gone and that it was wonderful now that Lagos was clean and tidy. I will find it hard to watch the South African World Cup knowing how many people have lost their homes and their livelihoods, not for the beautiful game but for selfish and unjust city planners for whom the poor are just an old football to be booted off the pitch with no care as to where it lands.

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