Thursday, July 26, 2007

The World Cup...the really important issu

South African soccer fans worried that Zimbabwean turmoil will mar the tournament.

By Zakeus Chibaya in Johannesburg (AR No. 121, 10-July-07)

Football fans in South Africa are urging their government to try to solve the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe before hosting the World Cup finals in 2010.

They say it would be grossly insensitive to stage the tournament while Zimbabweans suffer, and they fear President Robert Mugabe’s repressive policies could to lead to violence in South Africa during the event.

Pretoria officials appear to share these anxieties, but have been keen to stress that their primary concern is the welfare of Zimbabweans and southern Africans in general.

“We remain concerned not only about the effects on the people of Zimbabwe but the effect on the region as a whole,” said Aziz Pahad, South Africa’s deputy foreign affairs minister.

However, some political observers are sceptical about Pretoria’s efforts to help resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe. ...

A European parliament resolution last year said it “strongly insists that the Mugabe regime must derive absolutely no financial benefit or propaganda value from either the run-up to the 2010 World Cup or the tournament itself; in this regard, [the EU] calls on South Africa, the host nation, and on FIFA to exclude Zimbabwe from participating in pre-World Cup matches, holding international friendly games, or hosting national teams involved in the event”.

If it is still in turmoil when the tournament kicks off, the organisers could be facing serious problems in South Africa and Zimbabwe, should it still be included as a base for participating teams.

An estimated 40,000 Zimbabweans cross into South Africa illegally every month, fleeing an unemployment rate of 80 per cent and hyperinflation of 3,700 per cent. The exodus is causing xenophobia-induced violence in South Africa, and the situation is going to get worse as South Africans and Zimbabweans jostle for jobs during the World Cup.

“Zimbabwe has been turned into a military state by Mugabe and it poses a security threat to South Africa hosting the World Cup,” said political analyst Edditon Maloba.

At the same time, there’s concern that foreign football fans visiting Zimbabwe in advance of the tournament may be harassed by the authorities. “Foreigners will be accused of spying or trying to topple the government,” continued Maloba, who also warns that many participating countries will refuse to train in Zimbabwe because of its bad human rights record.

The situation in Zimbabwe has already forced some sporting events to be cancelled - reminiscent of 2003, when a number of countries refused to play their matches there during the Cricket World Cup.

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