Sepp Blatter is worried. The global downturn in the economy has left him fretting about the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. A couple of years ago, a World Cup in South Africa was the dream ticket for him. A first for the continent of Africa, which would guarantee that he would be remembered as a pace-setter, no matter what off colour activities may or may not be taking place back hime in Geneva, the home of FIFA. It would sure up the critical votes of the African bloc within FIFA’s byzantine voting system, even though whether South Africa was the best or most deserving case for Africa is a moot point. It would be a global party to celebrate two decades of post-Apartheid South Africa.
Or at least that’s what they had been hoping. Recent stock market turbulation seems likely to lead to a global recession which could last for at least a couple of years. This seems likely to have a significant effect on the number of people that are able to visit the 2010 World Cup Finals. After all, a trip to South Africa would be unlikely to be cheap, and luxury holidays are likely to be amongst the first things to be struck off peoples “to do” lists if they are concerned about their financial security. If this happens, especially in Africa, where the ticket prices are largely to be much too expensive for local people to buy tickets, FIFA could face a major embarrassment – a World Cup finals with many of the matches being played out in front of less than capacity crowds.
The South African organising committee are already clearly nervous. Danny Jordaan, the administrator who led South Africa to victory in the bid to host the finals and now the man in charge of co-ordinating the event said of England, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands that, “These are teams with huge support base. Even if those fans have fewer pounds or euros in the pocket, they will still benefit from the exchange rate”. FIFA have some important questions to answer in this respect. Are they prepared to gamble on empty stadia that may come about through keeping prices too high? It’s worth remembering that this World Cup finals could prove to be a critical one. Football is in a state of almost open civil war, with the clubs on one side and FIFA and the national and international confederations on the other.
Every year, the Champions League final takes a bigger and bigger slice of the media pie. In some ways, the annual attention that it receives year on year is turning it into a global event. A World Cup played in front of small crowds would, at this critical period in the battle for supremacy over the game would be little short of a catastrophe for FIFA. There are plenty of people who already believe that the popularity of the international game is already on the wane. Certainly back here in England, one suspects that general support for the national team has never been lower. The vast majority of people now seem to treat the England national team as somewhere between an irritation and an embarrassment. The World Cup finals, held every four years, sometimes feel like the only event that maintain the interest of the public in the world of international football.
In this battle, choosing which side of the fence to throw one’s support to feels like having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Ultimately, the feeling remains that FIFA still, with many caveats, deserves the support of the ordinary football game to a far greater extent than any coalition of television companies and billionaire clubs. The federations and confederations still pay at least lip service to funding the game at all levels. As regards the World Cup finals in 2010, FIFA has, in one way, an opportunity. It’s not too late to drop the price of tickets, limit sales to the honeypots of Europe, Asia and America, and remodel the 2010 World Cup as “a tournament for all of Africa”, doing everything within their power to ensure that as many Africans as possible can get to the tournament, and then to get into the matches. It is a sad reflection upon the nature of the modern game that one suspects that, no matter what the ramifications of playing South Africa 2010 in front of half-empty stadia might be, it may yet be more lucrative for FIFA to do this.