Image of a continent hangs on World Cup

Mon Jun 7, 2010 9:14am EDT
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By Barry Moody

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The World Cup will have the globe's largest audience glued to their tv screens for a month from Friday but soccer's greatest trophy means much more than that for South Africa and an entire continent.

Racial reconciliation, the affirmation of an often troubled post-apartheid nation, future investment and tourism are just a few of the issues at stake in Africa's largest economy.

African leaders believe that this tournament, a massive logistical undertaking, will enable the continent to overturn stereotypes of tragedy, disaster and failure and prove that it is a vibrant can-do region with a positive future.

President Jacob Zuma said the World Cup is "the single greatest opportunity we have ever had to showcase our diversity and potential to the world. We must rise and tell the story of a continent which is alive with possibilities."

Of course, the opposite could also be true. If the tournament fails, and particularly if it is marred by major violence or organizational chaos, it could do significant damage to the continent's image.

Although most signs are good for a joyful and uniquely African spectacular, there are plenty of areas of concern to keep organizers awake at night, particularly security and the country's frighteningly high crime rate, and transport, always a possible Achilles heel.

At least 15 people were injured on Sunday when fans tried to force their way into a township stadium to watch a warmup between Nigeria and North Korea, while FIFA's media transport shuttles have been a chaotic mess so far.


<p>South African supporters cheer their team before the international friendly soccer match against Denmark at the Super Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, June 5, 2010. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko</p>