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May 10, 2010

By the time the World Cup kicks off in Johannesburg this summer, we’ll have had our fair share of stories like this one in Sunday’s New York Times, on the lasting scars apartheid has left on the South African nation, a country still struggling to come out on top of its checkered history.

But while the racial tensions of the not-so-distant past are on full display at the outset of the games, what's missing are the faces of the millions of Africans who won’t have the chance to participate in what's being billed as a win for the entire continent.

As stadiums in South Africa go up, many soccer fields across Africa where today’s stars once trained are crumbling amid economic woes. With just over a month to go until the games start in South Africa, where 32 countries from around the world will be represented, FIFA admits that more than half of the tickets available by cash — some 250,000 in all — remain unsold. That seems odd, given that the games are taking place on the edge of the second most populous continent in the world, home to about a billion people. But then again, we're talking about a continent that's also home to some of the deepest swaths of poverty on the planet — one facing massive challenges of disease and malnutrition, not to mention lack of transportation and communication development.

So, while the World Cup is happening literally around the corner for some, the truth is that for too many, this year’s games still couldn’t be further away.

Case in point: Never mind the fact that the majority of South Africans and millions more across the continent don’t have access to the Internet. Up until recently, ticket sales for the world’s greatest soccer gathering were still being sold largely online. According to the World Bank, in South Africa, only 8.6% of the population are considered Internet users. (In the U.S., that figure is closer to 70%.) Meanwhile, such a disparity only increases when you look across sub-Saharan Africa.

FIFA’s answer to this dilemma was to set up national and international hotlines, which soccer fans around the world can call to purchase tickets (which cost as much as $900 U.S. dollars). But significant populations inside South Africa and throughout the continent don’t have access to mobile phones or landlines, either. What’s more, while the trip is time-consuming and costly for people living outside the African mainland, high costs and dilapidated transportation options aren’t making it any easier to mobilize fans across the continent to attend the games, either.

Every time an international event like the World Cup rolls around, the world zeroes in on a specific set of ugly facts that blemish the host town. In China for example, during the Olympics, human rights and privacy concerns were front-and-center. In South Africa, the focus so far has been on the pockmarks of apartheid. But perhaps this time, the international community will realize that the problem is the fact that the host country isn't all that well-represented, and neither is the host continent. Perhaps this is our chance to point out who’s missing — and why.

Article by Andy Amsler at Change.org
Visibility: Everyone
Posted: Monday May 10, 2010, 11:07 am
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