one GOAL, one NATION

Did the World Cup 2010 help realise social and economic developmental goals by encouraging constructive social behaviour in individuals and promoting social cohesion and nation-building? This is one of the questions JARÉ STRUWIG, VANESSA BAROLSKY and BEN ROBERTS try to answer by analysing results from the South African Social Attitudes Surveys (SASAS), conducted annually from 2005 to 2008.

When, in May 2004, South Africa won the bid for the 2010 Soccer World Cup there was widespread euphoria in the country. The South African Football Association (SAFA) claimed that South Africa’s 2010 World Cup would be ‘African and South African’, and would have the potential to bring both the nation and the continent closer together.


In order to understand attitudes and values around the hosting of the World Cup, a set of questions about this event was included in the South African Social Attitude Surveys (SASAS) from 2005 to 2008, and again in November 2010, following the event. Nationally representative samples of about 3 000 South African adults aged 16 years and older living in private households were interviewed in each instance.

An analysis of the survey results shows a remarkable shift in perceptions regarding the benefits that were anticipated from the country’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup and the actual benefits that citizens felt the country experienced following the event.

Most significant was an enormous upswing in the belief that the 2010 World Cup had a positive impact on social cohesion and nation-building after the event, from a small percentage of 2% to 4% prior to the event. On the other hand, expectations of economic benefits and job creation were significantly disappointed.

During the run-up to the event, the majority of South Africans stated that the main benefit of hosting the World Cup would be job creation, economic growth and, in particular, ‘putting South Africa on the international map’.

While expectations that the World Cup would ‘put South Africa on the map’ increased from 22% in 2005 to 29% in 2008, during the same period expectations about job creation decreased from 33% in 2005 to 21% in 2008.

Perceptions about economic growth remained fairly stable between 28% and 26%. In contrast, a mere 2% to 4% of people thought that the main benefit of hosting the World Cup would be achieving national unity.

After the Word Cup, a set of questions designed to gauge people’s perceptions about both the benefits and disadvantages of hosting the World Cup (see figure 1), was analysed by combining the information into four key themes, namely:

  • social cohesion
  • confidence in government
  • economic opportunities
  • economic disadvantages

The data collected after the hosting of the World Cup contrasts markedly with the data collected before the event.

After the World Cup, many noted that the ‘intangible’ impact (social cohesion and nation-building) was in fact a primary contribution to the country, rather than its ‘tangible’ or economic impact, as was the expectation prior to the event.

According to SASAS data there therefore appears to be an overwhelming concurrence among South Africans across provincial, racial, demographic, urban, rural, age and economic divides that the World Cup had an enormously positive impact on social cohesion and nation-building.

The results also show an increase in trusting the government to be able to deliver services but, in terms of job creation and economic opportunities, South Africans were less likely to agree that the World Cup succeeded in providing these benefits.

As illustrated in the Figure 2, the majority of respondents by far felt that FIFA had been the primary economic beneficiary of the World Cup.

Following the World Cup, a significant proportion of respondents felt there were economic disadvantages to hosting the event, such as wasteful expenditure on stadiums (46%) and delaying the provision of basic services to poor areas (59%).

Coloured and white respondents were most likely to agree that the hosting of the World Cup led to a waste of money, delayed the provision of necessary basic services to poor areas, and increased the prices of goods and services. Indian or Asian respondents and African respondents were least likely to state that there was economic spillage.

Looking at social cohesion, the results show that men were more likely than women to experience the World Cup as a unifying event. Young people were also much more likely to feel that this event raised social cohesion, gave people the opportunity to socialise with other race groups and unified South Africa.

In terms of race, white citizens were by far the least likely to see the value of the World Cup in terms of unifying the nation, compared to other race groups, especially coloureds and Asians.

The majority of respondents by far felt that FIFA had been the primary economic beneficiary of the World Cup

When asked whether South Africa should not host other major sports events like the Olympics, almost half (49%) disagreed with this statement, indicating that South Africa should host other major sports events. However, a sizeable third (34%) said that they did not want South Africa to host other major sporting events. The rest were undecided.

Ironically, it is those who appear to have benefited most economically from the World Cup (i.e. high LSM respondents) who were most opposed (40.2%) to South Africa hosting future sports mega-events.

Low LSM respondents and people in rural areas, despite being quite clear about the fact that they did not benefit economically from the World Cup, appear to be more in favour of hosting similar events in the future.

Jaré Struwig and Ben Roberts are SASAS coordinators, and Vanessa Barolsky is a chief researcher in the Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery research programme, HSRC.

Acknowledgement: The research presented in this article was partly sponsored by the Department of Sports and Recreation.