Photo: Gizmodo

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The World Cup is approaching, but not for the poorest

My 3 year-old son asked to put on his England football top on today after seeing our neighbour's son with his Brazilian football shirt on this afternoon. It seems World Cup fever is heating up with less than 2 weeks to go now. I asked a Burkinabé colleague recently who he'd be supporting given that his country would not be there. "Whichever African team is playing of course!" This sense of pan-African solidarity is utterly foreign to the majority of Europeans. It is difficult to imagine a Scot supporting England or a Belgian supporting France. Anyone but more like!

This sense of solidarity and excitement about the World Cup is not universal, particularly among some of those on whose  doorstep it will take place. For many of South African's poorest citizens, who sustain their livelihood through street vending, the World Cup should have been a windfall opportunity to provide for themselves and their family. Instead, as the BBC recently reported, street vendors will have to apply for expensive permits, for which, in the words of one street trader,

"We are being made to jump through hundreds of hoops so we can do for a month what we have been doing here for years - and that's selling at the stadium. Now I know it is just a reminder that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer."

Of course, creating conditions that discriminate against the poorest is not unique to the staging of a World Cup, nor to South Africa. The most vulnerable people and groups frequently miss out on the benefits of development because they need extra support in order to claim their rights and take advantage of the opportunities on offer.

Relocation projects from shanty or squatter settlements frequently fail to benefit the poorest families as it places them too far their source of income for it to remain feasible for them to remain, forcing them to return to illegal, and indecent dwellings. Or employment training which spend weeks on giving job seekers such skills such as preparing a CV - the problem being that those in most need of finding work have no formal work experience to add to their curriculum vitae.

In this case, a solution could have been found for those have been earning a living from this trade prior to the World Cup by easing the rules and expense to obtain permits.

South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world in its recognition of social and economic rights. Unfortuntely, it appears these do not apply from 11 June to 11 July.


  1. Good points Matt. FIFA will have a lot to answer for in terms of selling merchandise at the stadia. But before we criticise them too much, bear in mind that they have a such an in-demand brand (the World Cup) that they have to protect it as much as possible from pirates. Maybe on licencing prices, they've gone too far, but what would you suggest?

  2. Thanks Zephyr. It's not by preventing small scale street vendors from sellig soft drinks and ice-cream that they will crack down on piracy. They could have begun an easily accessible registration scheme with those already vending several months ago, preventing there from being uncontrolled street trading during the tournament but protecting the livelihood of such people who rely on this trade.