Brazil World Cup is the latest event in global shift towards emerging economic powers

Dr Kamilla Swart

Posted: June 7, 2014

Tagged: BRICS / events / geopolitics / impact

With the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) representing the new centres of economic power, it is not surprising that all recent and future sport mega-events (except for the 2020 Olympics in Japan) are being hosted in these countries. These include the 2008 Olympics in China, the 2010 FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) World Cup™in South Africa, the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India, the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ and 2016 Olympics Games in Brazil and the 2014 Olympics in Russia. This opinion piece reflects on South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in the lead up to Brazil and highlights some of the complexities of hosting mega-events in the global south.

Both South Africa and Brazil have used and are using mega-events as a platform to achieve global positioning, through media coverage and tourism experiences, to stimulate socio-economic development and to advance their geopolitical goals. However, international media attention is not without risk. In South Africa, not dissimilar to Brazil, there was increasing negative media reporting in the lead up to 2010, particularly in the western media, in relation to crime, readiness and Afro-pessism in general. The xenophobic attacks that broke out in Alexandria, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg in 2008 fuelled perceptions of a tainted image, and the consequent lower than anticipated visitor numbers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.[i] Fortunately, these fears were unfounded and the World Cup largely was hailed as a success, especially from an infrastructural and image-building perspective.

Given the large public investments in mega-events, the cost escalations and the opportunity costs associated with bidding and hosting mega-events in deeply unequal societies, calls into question whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Whilst South Africa incurred excessive cost over-runs for stadia development, one of the benefits was the infrastructural upgrades to the country’s road networks, improve public transport, and major upgrades to airports.[ii]

Although visitor numbers were lower than predicted due to the negative press as mentioned previously, other factors also played a part. These included the global economic crisis, South Africa as a long-haul destination, and price increases and crowing-out effects that are associated with mega-events in general, as well as exaggerated forecasts. The World Cup did however expose South Africa to new tourism markets, especially in South America. Similarly, Brazil hopes to enhance its tourism profile, particularly in lesser-known host cities and to open up new markets.

The issue of crime was of particular concern to South Africa and FIFA and the country needed to demonstrate its capacity to manage safety and security concerns. Additional resources were brought in, including the deployment of 44 000 police officers and the upgrading of police infrastructure. While these measures were beneficial during the World Cup, the same level of visible policing has not been maintained and calls into question the longer term legacy of World Cup securitisation, especially for its own citizens, which is so essential to a country like South Africa.

Again there are similarities with Brazil in relation to lawlessness in the favelas and attempts to control crime. Safety was considered as one of Brazil’s difficult challenges when bidding for both 2014 and the 2016 Games in Rio. Brazil will have about 150 000 law enforcement agents employed to secure the World Cup. What is strikingly different in the lead up to Brazil in comparison to South Africa is the level and intensity of public protests against the costs of the World Cup fuelled by rising prices and displacement due to stadium construction, amongst other grievances. Public protests are anticipated during the World Cup but it will remain to be seen if indeed it will be peaceful. The heightened security concerns is in all likelihood having a negative effect on achieving the goals of hosting the World Cup in Brazil, specifically with regard to portraying a positive image and attracting tourists to Brazil. Tourism forecasts have been halved from 600 000 to 300 000 foreign visitors.[iii]

One of the intangible legacies of the World Cup, albeit fleetingly, is the ‘feel-good’ factor of successfully hosting an event of such magnitude. It instilled feelings of national pride and provided us with the confidence in our collective abilities to achieve such a positive result when many critics doomed us to failure. Moreover, the successful hosting of the World Cup provided South Africa with an opportunity to show the world that it was capable of delivering mega-projects so much so that it was claimed by the then International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge, that South Africa could now host the Olympic Games.[iv] Interestingly though, in the wake of public protests after 2010, the government announced that South Africa would not bid to host the 2020 Olympics as the country should consolidate the gains of the World Cup for now and instead focus the country’s efforts on the delivery of basic services to all South Africans and reducing poverty.[v] Recently, there has however been murmurings of a 2020 Commonwealth Games bid followed by an Olympic Games bid for 2024. One wonders whether the close succession of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics Games in Brazil and the associated costs contributed to fuelling the social discontent in the country and the impact this may have on a future Games bid for South Africa.

IVan der Westhuizen, J. 2012. Hosting the 2010 World Cup: What have we learned? Some South African Reflections. BRICS Policy Brief. BRICS Policy Centre, Rio. [Link]


IIIWade, S. 2014. World Cup 2014 boasts ‘highest level of security you can imagine’: Everything you need to know about safety in Brazil. [Link]

IVBBC Sport. 2011. South Africa can host Olympic Games - Jacques Rogge. [Link]

VBBC Sport. 2011. South Africa rules out bid for 2020 summer Olympics. [Link]

About Dr Kamila Swart

Kamilla Swart is Associate Professor in the Department of Tourism and Event Management, Faculty of Business, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), South Africa. She was instrumental in driving the 2010 FIFA World Cup Research Agenda and served as the City of Cape Town’s Research Coordinator for 2010. Kamilla also serves as the principal investigator of the CPUT team for CARNIVAL, a trans-continental comparative study funded by the EU Commission and led by Coventry University. It is aimed at analysing the management and legacy of mega-events with partner institutions in Brazil, England, Germany, South Africa, and the USA.