When the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned Judge Chris Nicholson’s ruling on Monday, clearing the way for new corruption charges against African National Congress president Jacob Zuma, legal experts commented that a trial would not likely take place until next year , when SA will be hosting the Fifa World Cup.

So how would a trial affect the World Cup, and what role will it play in shaping international perceptions of SA when the global spotlight is cast on the host?

To answer this , it would be constructive to take a leaf from the book of the previous host, Germany, which had its share of corruption allegations before hosting the tournament. In fact, the very beginning of Germany’s World Cup campaign was beset with a bribery scandal that caused Fifa president Sepp Blatter to consider calling for a recast of the vote.

On the eve of July 5 2000, the day before members of the Fifa executive were to cast their votes for the 2006 host (which was widely tipped to be SA), the editor of Titanic, a German political magazine, sent a fax to the Fifa delegates, who were staying at the Grand Hotel Dolder in Zurich. Marking the fax “extremely urgent”, he persuaded the hotel receptionist to slide copies into envelopes and push them under each Fifa executive’s door.

To their consternation, the fax was quite explicit in soliciting votes for Germany in return for gifts. Intended as a prank that ought to drive up sales figures for Titanic, the fax ended up being taken seriously by a number of the Fifa executives, including Charles Dempsey from New Zealand, who then abstained from the vote, handing the 2006 World Cup to Germany on a 12-11 vote.

A few days later, Dempsey told CNN that “this fax finally broke my neck”, and the German Football Association issued summons to sue Titanic for DM600m (about € 300m) in damages.

Then in July 2005, with just one year to go to kick-off, Germany was rocked by a corporate scandal that threatened to topple government ministers. Top executives at Germany’s largest car maker, Volkswagen, were embroiled in bribery charges involving visits to brothels and a project code-named “1001 Nights”, which involved a trip to India for representatives of the VW Workers Council.

On this and other business trips, former personnel manager Klaus-Joachim Gebauer procured prostitutes for labour representatives, billing the charges to VW. Gebauer managed to spend € 780000 within two years without ever turning in any receipts.

And then, with only two months to go, Germany’s image was dealt another blow by allegations that a club in its top soccer league was involved in match fixing. During the previous season, German football had been beset by revelations of match-fixing scandals in lower soccer leagues, but its premier division had been spared until that point. Now it surfaced that the former manager of Bundesliga club Bayer 04 Leverkusen had made cash payments, totalling € 580000, to bribe players of the opposition to help his team avoid relegation.

In the end, visitors to the 2006 World Cup were less concerned about the internal affairs of the host country than they were enthused by the friendly reception they received from the German people.

At the end of the 2006 World Cup, 88% of visitors responded with an emphatic “yes”, when asked if they would recommend Germany as a tourism destination back home.

The implications for 2010 are clear. The touch-points that will attract visitors to SA in the first place revolve around perceptions of personal safety and general security, and are likely to be informed more by reports about unrest in Zimbabwe and the outbreak of cholera rather than by misgivings about government graft. This is why it is imperative that the Zimbabwe crisis be solved by the time the Confederations Cup kicks off this year, so international visitors can feel that their personal safety is guaranteed.

PUBLICATION: Business Day
AUTHOR: Nikolaus Eberl
DATED: 15th January 2009