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Willing the Rich to Share in the World Cup Profits

It's not just the absence of the incessant vuvuzela casting an eerie silence across South Africa.

Instead it's the fading buzz of planes carrying about 300,000 tourists home. They've finished spending nearly $5,000 per person. Their departure marks the end of World Cup construction projects once producing 22,000 jobs.

The infrastructure, tourism and tickets are expected to contribute 0.5 per cent growth in GDP. FIFA is estimated to rake in $3.2 billion in profit -- more than double than that of the 2006 Germany games.

Businessmen and politicians will laud this success. Throughout the slums that ring South African cities, the 60 per cent of people living in poverty likely won't cheer.

Last month, about 3,000 angry protesters even chanted, "Get out FIFA mafia!"

During the economic crisis, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter said, "For FIFA, it's not important to get money out of Africa, but it's important to us that the Africans enjoy organizing their own World Cup."

Still, FIFA made billions. South Africa spent billions. And the poor were left with a legacy few can afford.

On past trips to South Africa, we've visited the shantytowns with corrugated tin walls and no water or electricity. On these dirt streets, love of soccer is apparent. Kids play with balls made of rubbish and idolize players. But few can afford tickets to regular games, let alone those in the new US$5.5 billion stadiums.

These arenas have water and sanitation while the neighbouring slums use open toilets. In Cape Town alone, a government-issued report found 55 per cent of sewage systems are "inadequate." And, with Building and Wood Workers International reporting many workers on World Cup construction projects received dollar-a-day wages, few can access the country's refurbished airports and rapid rail network.

South African President Jacob Zuma insists these expenditures will be economic drivers.

"The country's transport, energy, telecommunications, and social infrastructure are being upgraded and expanded," he said. "This is contributing to economic development in the midst of a global recession, while improving conditions for investment."

But, South Africa received a blow with the start of the tournament. At the time, the official unemployment rate was high at 25.2 per cent. It saw an annualized decline of 6.2 per cent in April and May, according to Adcorp Employment Index.

That's the formal number. However, in slums across the country, it's common to find immigrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi struggling as informal and undocumented workers. They too lost jobs when the construction projects ended, even if they don't count in official numbers.

FIFA is putting $90 million - nearly three per cent of its profits - in African football development. While sport has important social value, the governing body and future host countries need to put more into sustainable job creation and infrastructure with a broader reach.

Otherwise, the World Cup could start leaving an unsavoury legacy.

FIFA doesn't want to be seen as a burden to its host cities. That distinction befell the 1984 summer Olympics when Montreal accrued a debt totalling $2.8 billion. Los Angeles won the Games when no one else bid, but only under the understanding it wouldn't incur financial cost.

This debt is one thing in the West. But with international sporting events trending towards the developing world, both host countries and governing bodies need rethink the bidding system. Currently, it awards games to those building the most luxurious stadiums. Instead, investment needs to go to public transport systems that benefit local populations and infrastructure projects with long-term benefit.

The 2014 World Cup in cities across Brazil with the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro could start this trend. Like South Africa, Brazil is a large and growing economy. But its cities are also ringed by sprawling slums, high crime rates and poverty.

By learning from South Africa though, we can ensure that record profits are more equitably distributed and far more people find victory in the World Cup.

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