ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Worlding the Cup

South Africa wants to use the football World Cup to mark the beginning of a new era, but who is using whom?

Though they host the biggest single-sport event in human history, football World Cup venues are not always memorable. The 2010 version promises to be different because both venue and event have staked a lot on each other. The reconfigured South African establishment sees World Cup 2010 as an all-important rite of passage marking the end of “Transition” and the beginning of what it hopes will be a post-racial era of fully globalised panchromatic neoliberalism. The cup is the final stamp of world approval that will help South Africa put a lid on the past. For its part, FIFA, the world football body known by the initials of its French name, Fédération Internationale de Football Association, sees an African World Cup as the culmination of its mission to “reach out and touch the world, using football as a symbol of hope and integration”. This may well be partly true, but one can hardly ignore the commercial engines that drive the self-styled “Brand FIFA”. Going to Africa is mainly a matter of achieving market saturation for this monopoly product – even the phrase “FIFA World Cup” is a registered trademark!

FIFA’s conscious effort to go global with its flagship product began with USA 1994, the first time that the World Cup exited its traditional Europe-Latin America orbit (two-time host Mexico being a partial exception). The commercial success of 1994, despite the absence of a prior fan-base, encouraged further expansion, and 2002 saw the Cup entering Asia for the first time with South Korea and Japan as co-hosts. World Cup 2010 effectively marks the conquest of the globe by brand FIFA and its efforts to market the most popular game known to humanity.

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