Kids fight for the lone football on a run-down street, while
women hang clothes on the balconies of this Cape Town suburb
ravaged by drug abuse. A young man already missing his front teeth
limps up to London’s mayor and asks for more balls.
Football is providing hope here, and Boris Johnson sees this as
the main drawing point for his country’s faltering bid to host the
2018 World Cup. Britain’s marketing and commercial power could mean
more money for sports development projects around the world.
“We’re here to look at the role of football,” Johnson told The
Associated Press on a Thursday tour of the “Cape Flats”
communities created during South Africa’s apartheid regime. “These
goal posts here were paid for by a scheme co-sponsored by a London
club. This helps communities come together, and shows the power of
sport as an engine of change in society.”
Johnson was on the second day of a goodwill tour touting
England’s bid to stage the World Cup in eight years’ time. He
visited Ajax Cape Town’s training grounds before accompanying
ex-England striker Andy Cole and South Africa defender Lucas Radebe
on a tour of Cape Town’s dirt-poor northern suburbs.
“People from outside usually only come here when it’s election
time,” said Dawn Pretorius, a 38-year-old resident of Elsie’s
She said drugs have taken their toll on the community, even if
gang violence is relatively rare and the neighborhood has improved
in recent years.
Methamphetamine – commonly called “tik” here – is the poison
of choice and its effects can be seen in the ravaged faces, sunken
eyes and premature aging in many locals.
But Donald Groenvald, a carpenter, said a partnership between
the Ajax club and the community has improved life in Elsie’s River.
In the courtyard of these concrete monoliths is an Ajax-sponsored
clubhouse with a billiards table, a photo wall of football heroes
and the matches on television.
“This attracts a lot of children, and there are buses for the
kids to go to the games,” he said. “That’s how development
Such projects are the narrative of Johnson’s pitch for an
English World Cup, after a series of setbacks ahead of a December
vote by FIFA. England has had to reshuffle its organizing committee
after ex-chairman David Triesman alleged that Spain would support
Russia’s bid in exchange for help to bribe referees at the World
Cup – claims that were completely unsubstantiated.
“I see huge hope and I see huge potential here for sport to
bring people together and to give kids things to do. That applies
as much to London as to South Africa,” said Johnson, who adopted a
more serious tone in place of his usual off-the-cuff banter.
“These guys are motivated and that’s what sports can bring about.
It is an unambiguous force for good.”
While South Africa’s World Cup, and Brazil’s in 2014, may
generate limited returns for investors and funds for football
developments projects, Johnson has said he’s “absolutely sure”
that the corporations of London and dynamism of Britain will mean
overflowing coffers for FIFA and its community plans around the
One man wanted immediate action.
“We need more soccer balls,” said George Finck, a 22-year-old
from the flats. “Give us the old boots and shinguards after the
World Cup. We’re poor here. We just want to play.”
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