It seems hard to justify spending billions of rand on football stadiums when millions are homeless and living in tin shacks.

South Africa is a country of great contrast and will undoubtedly host a colourful and exciting World Cup next summer.

But for those of us who like to think we have a social conscience, it will be hard to see a country besieged by so much poverty mortgaging itself to the hilt to lay on a tournament for such a cash-rich sport.

I know the arguments about promoting tourism, creating jobs and raising awareness. South Africa is hoping the World Cup will ensure the country is never the same again.

I’ve been to Argentina and they have similar shanty towns in Buenos Aires and yet hosted the tournament in 1978. Mexico is a similar story.

But I challenge anyone to get off a plane in Cape Town and not be taken aback at the sheer scale of the township opposite the airport. It takes your breath away. It certainly did mine when I went there last month.

The township opposite the airport is called Nyanga and is so vast that it stretches as far as the eye can see and the shacks continue along the N2 motorway all the way into the centre of Cape Town.

Along that road are adverts for a rehousing programme called “Shackland to Dignity”.

Frankly, I find it hard to accept that the billions of rand – more than 10 billion and rising at the last count – spent on stadiums would not be better spent on housing for those living in poverty.

The exchange rate is just under 13 rand to the pound at the moment but you could still get an awful lot of nice, new housing for a fraction of Gareth Barry’s weekly wage at Manchester City.

All this would be easier to accept if the hard-up people in those shacks were at least getting to see some of the World Cup games in these wonderful new stadiums.

But rather than build a stadium in the heart of one of the football-mad townships, the local organising committee opted to build at Cape Town’s stadium at Green Point.
Green Point stadium, Cape Town, in March 2009 (Pic:Getty)

There’s a lot of work left to be done, believe me. It still looks like a building site at the moment, no matter what the head of the organising committee, Danny Jordaan says.

But what is dispiriting is the fact that Green Point is a wealthy white area and the whites play rugby and cricket in South Africa. They don’t play football. Ex-pats watch football but that’s it.

That is the biggest single criticism of everyone you talk to. The stadium should have been built in or next to a township. That would make a real difference.

Every night on the news when I was in Cape Town there were stories about how the Confederations Cup had only sold half its tickets.

They were trying to suggest that there would have to be a similar drive on tickets and promotion for the World Cup as there was for the Indian Premier League.

Advertisement – article continues below »

The glitzy cricket tournament was switched to South Africa at the last minute and, to be fair, was deemed a huge success and played to largely sell-out crowds.

Jordaan says that subsidised tickets will be made available to local people who couldn’t otherwise afford them. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Also, the country regularly has power cuts or shut-downs because its electricity system is so outdated and poor. Yet it can still find the finance to build these amazing stadiums.

South Africa has a wonderful reputation for hosting major sporting events. The rugby World Cup was seen as one of the best ever in the history of the sport.

There were no big security problems there either. That’s the other fear awaiting England fans who will travel to South Africa next summer.

There’s an area down the coast from Cape Town ear-marked for England, the FA and fans, with one resort  bought up already.

It’s hard to see Fabio Capello messing up either this weekend in Kazakhstan or against Andorra at Wembley next week. England will be on the plane to South Africa.

But when England fans get there, they will arrive in a country which currently has a basic public transport system, people don’t use trains and taxis are renowned for being dangerous.

A huge number of holidaymakers hire cars to get around. There are glorious sights to see in Cape Town, like Table Mountain, Robben Island and the wine vineyards of Stellenbosch as well as the Waterfront.

But in amidst the plush hotels in central Cape Town is a city riddled with crime and fear.

Everybody in South Africa knows someone who has been affected by crime. The old argument comes back that there are certain no-go areas in London.

Fair enough, but in London, not every house has gates, armed private security firms and a mad panic to shut those gates every time the car goes in and out of the driveway. And I mean EVERY house.

That tells you something about the fear of crime in Cape Town and yet it’s Johannesburg which is supposed to be the more dangerous city.

I’m torn between desperately wanting South Africa to host the best World Cup in the history of the tournament. Over the course of about five different visits, I’ve grown to love South Africa.

But the people who survive in poverty deserve a better way of life and they won’t get to go to any games.

It’s a depressing situation when the country throws open its doors to dozens of £100,000-a-week superstars. And yet South Africa has so many people who live in appalling conditions.

It is hard to accept such a shocking contrast in this day and age. I hope the tournament promotes the country and gives a lot of people hope. But that still seems like a bit of a shallow argument to me.

AUTHOR: John Cross
DATED: 4th June 2009