It's going to take more than a dopey leopard mascot to ease the anxiety and uncertainty over South Africa's bid to successfully host the 2010 World Cup. Political reasons have marred this endeavor from the beginning, and you can be sure contingency plans are in place to hold the tournament in the U.S. or Germany, or somewhere else that's prepared in case it gets yanked out from under the South Africans.
The latest blow came yesterday when President Thabo Mbeki and 11 members of his cabinet quit their posts, including finance minister Jabu Moleketi, who was running the books for the World Cup. Not good.
Worse yet, Moleketi oversees construction of physical and transportation infrastructure and he has hinted he won't continue in that role under a new government.
FIFA, meanwhile, is saying it's a manageable situation and it's already talking with a possible replacement, African National Congress boss Jacob Zuma. BTW, Zuma is being prosecuted on corruption charges.
Nothing like a stable atmosphere for your organization's biggest event, which just happens to be the world's biggest sporting tournament behind the Olympics.
Not only has government unrest cast a pall over the organization of the Cup, but violence against tourists is a perennial problem. Yet, South Africa continues to put on a happy face and play down these problems. It is also ignoring the governemnt's support of Zimbabwe and its dictator Robert Mugabe; some liken this situation to the attention the plight in Tibet drew during the Olympics. The New York Times op-ed page has addressed this issue and called for the Cup to be removed from South Africa unless Mugabe step down.
It's sad that football has to become a political stage, and it's something to be avoided, usually at all costs. But the 2010 World Cup has disaster written all over it. FIFA is steadfast in keeping the tournament in South Africa, but at what cost? Will tourists be in danger by the out of control crime? Will the infrastructure be a nightmare, and transport between venues impossible? Does the fact that the tournament is allowed to remain in South Africa indicate a condoning of the political and oppressive situation in the country by FIFA and football fans as a whole?
These are difficult questions that no one is answering. South Africa has 21 months to get its act together; may sound like a long time, but that clock is ticking--loudly.