2010 – imagine the worst

Think of

  • the outrage at the Munich Olympics in the summer of  1974;
  • the Champions League Twenty20 cricket in Mumbai last year;
  • the boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980;
  • bomb threats at the Grand National in 1997;
  • the Sri Lankan marathon massacre in 2008;
  • the extensive security fears at the Ryder Cup post the September 11 attacks and
  • the 2002  car bomb near Madrid’s main stadium just before the kick-off of Real Madrid’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.

The Fifa World Cup kicks off in 294 days, 14 hours zero minutes and 26 seconds as I begin to write this and it is time to ask: what are the big and scary things that could happen at the soccer?

Public and private fears have included:

  • that we scare the tourists with our crime and grime,
  • that contractors fail to finish the stadiums/hotels/roads on time and,
  • that Bafana Bafana collapses in a heap.

I have dealt with these common-or-garden variety fears and concerns here and Bafana has encouraged with its sterling performance at the Confederations Cup. But what about the really big and really scary stuff?

The Fifa World Cup becomes a focus of big security concerns for three basic reasons:

Firstly, every conceivable form of mass communication is present or focused on the event. Make a noise (grind an axe) in or around the event and all that capacity is at your disposal – to spread your happy ideas to the rest of the waiting world. Talk about ambush marketing ….

Secondly, the event has significant economic consequences as well as prestige and sentimental power over South Africans and their government and businesses. Real threats of disruption will get the South African government, business community and public working towards resolving the matter, including by giving in to/forcing others to give in to, those forces.

Thirdly, the country will be full of citizens and dignitaries from throughout the world. The World Cup is an excellent time for conflicts

  • within other countries,
  • between other countries and/or
  • those involving global powers and ideologies

to bleed all over the host country.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of those who might try and piggy-back the soccer – some entirely legitimately, others with darker and more evil intent.


Organised labour will be tempted to use the Fifa World Cup as leverage to advance its agenda. NUM and others have already used this strategy to force a very tidy settlement of 12% increase for the 70 000 striking workers at 5 of the ten stadium building projects in July. Did someone lean on the employer to settle quickly – and therefore at a higher level than was realistic for the projects and the economy? Probably.

Organised labour does not have a completely free hand (in a strategic sense) to hold the World Cup hostage in support of its various demands and interests. Cosatu is in an alliance with the governing ANC and its own members are as enamoured of (with) the World Cup as the rest of  South Africa. For Cosatu the trick is going to be making as much out of the opportunity as possible without alienating government or the public.


The same is not true for taxi operators and owners. There are 150 000 minibus taxi’s in South Africa and these account for most public transport in the country (an astonishingly high 65% ). Drivers and owners are a powerful political and economic force who have demonstrated themselves able to decisively disrupt (I say split the danged infinitive!) the normal functioning of the country – through blockades and other forms of physical force and intimidation. The government is attempting to regulate and recapitalise the industry and implement the Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) – and impose the traffic code on the famously unlawful drivers and taxis. The industry is preparing to fight government on a range of issues – making this threat scenario more likely.

This is a Wild West industry – and also happens to be the true heart of  entrepreneurship, creativity and drive of the emerging business classes (not those sharp and useless Slick Willies taking turns on equity through political connectivity and BEE charters). But the industry players are hard core: armed and dangerous and bristling against attempts to control or sideline them or their belligerent organisations. They will hold the World Cup hostage if they can.

International Terrorism

The functionaries of conflicts involving various African causes and groups but also Al Qaeda, Basque separatism, Afghanistan, Israel, Iran, India/Pakistan, the USA/a-host-of-little-enemies, the Balkans, Russian separatism and many others must all be looking at the Word Cup through a “threats and opportunities” prism.

Those responsible for security at the tournament are likely to be sourcing every bit of intelligence they can; trying to catch plans at an early stage and forestall attacks. They are obviously being supported (and second-guessed and bossed around) by the major intelligence agencies from around the world in this regard.

They will also be wondering about possible targets and how to protect them. A high profile attack à la September 11 is no longer as easy for those who might wish to carry it out, but smaller, more loosely affiliated attacks are still a real possibility.

International Criminality

South Africa is already an important investment destination for both organised and the more chaotic forms of criminality. We’ve got the drug/people/wildlife/plant/arms/toxic waste smugglers, the extortion rackets, the robbers, internet scammers, the Ponzi artists, the assassins,  the industrial spies and identity theft rings ….. the list could go on for megabytes – and we have their representative organisations and corporations.

The World Cup is an important time and place for them. Lots of people travelling from different countries and then gathered in one place provide various kinds of logistic and market opportunities for organised criminality. The understandable obsession with protecting tourists from visible crime will divert resources from other areas (like intelligence and financial monitoring). The also understandable obsession with international terrorism will take the heat off the organised criminals and give them more space to operate.

The Hangover

This is not so much a “threat” issue as an inevitable anxiety. A whole range of political and economic risk fears are focusing on the “post-2010 hangover” period:

  • the capex programme will slow,
  • the bills will come due,
  • there will be nothing to look forward to …

These fears are essentially sentimental and, frankly:


I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

( From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam:27, 1850)
I wrote this entry in response to an interesting discussion I had with my friend Jenni – Thanks Jen, keep the ideas coming.

11 thoughts on “2010 – imagine the worst

  1. Thank you for covering this so extensively – the strike actions over recent weeks made me concerned about the strength of the unions and their ability to severely disrupt the world cup –

  2. Good analysis. I’d add the possibility of a global economic clusterfuck before the august event, which would gut attendance and make the price tag all the more onerous – plus remove even the pretense of ROI on the soon-to-be white elephant stadiums…

    1. Thanks for those Tian …. yeah, I prefered my funny picture (of me carrying a giant crab and shouting to my boys to fetch a net – then deep-etched and put on the right beach with table mountain in the background … then later the crab cut off because it looked like …. a broken chainsaw …. on the site.) I got enough flak from those with authority in my life saying it wasn’t corporate , so I was forced to change it … I pathetically loosened my tie like a schoolboy so that I wasn’t “gving in completely” to the authorities … ho hum, you would have thought at 49 I would be over some of these issues. The question of ROI is a difficult one. All the reading I have done suggests that it has only been the dreadful Atlanta Olympics that have provided a return in comprable events throughout the world for years and years. However, the “accounting” (or rather: what is being accounted for) is in dispute. That funny confluence of feel good stuff, prestige, national and international unity, the experience of “being on your best behaviour” carrying over into the future, the onging positive consequences for tourism ….. I buy that these things might make it “all worth it”! Keep well.

  3. For my money, put the old picture of you back on the left and your suite(d) alter ego on the right. Maybe let your readers vote the best one!!. First vote from me; the original pic.

    1. Tee Hee Stephen, it has taken me two weeks to find your comment – I am tending to blog only around the weekend, but trying to step up the output. The holy grail for which we search remains illusive. Last night I learned that Zuma has appoint Mo Shaik to head the SASS (that’s the ACTUAL secret service!) I am holding off logging a response because it will be too filled with hyperbole. Mark this moment as the moment in which the end was revealed! …. that’s the sort of tone I am hoping to avoid, but it is what I feel at the moment. Maybe Graham Chapman can play Mo? Hmm, some things are difficult to joke about …. but I am working on it

  4. Well, the really clever strategy, to be exploited by activists in South Africa and neighbouring countries, would be to use the 2010 event as a way of putting nonviolent but forceful pressure on the ANC government to take decisive action against the undemocratic regimes in Zimbabwe and Swaziland – to stop prevaricating, take a clear human-rights based foreign policy position, and take a stand….so come on, Swaziland labour movement, Botswana indigenous people’s rights movement, Zimbabwe labour, students, women’s and human rights movements, now is your chance! Time to start planning carefully, make the most of this opportunity. And ANC, better start thinking carefully about these issues…maybe someone will listen to me…..

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