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WC delivers for people

Image: South African crowds ahead of the France game

South Africa's hosting of the World Cup was always going to raise difficult questions. reflects on the impact hosting the 2010 World Cup will have on South Africa in the future

For a country where shanty-town poverty rubs shoulders with the plushest of high-rise living, South Africa's hosting of the World Cup was always going to raise difficult questions. For example: Would the £2.4billion spent on the stadia and infrastructure have been better spent on replacing those corrugated iron and cardboard shacks with permanent brick homes? Why should companies spend millions of pounds on corporate hospitality and freebie tickets for the rich when a couple of miles down the road children are going without food and living in filth? Why should Fifa be able to take a billion US dollars in profit from this tournament and spread it among the 'football family' instead of reinvesting it in a country that has spent so much on this tournament. The answers are not straightforward, but the simple one is: go around South Africa and ask people from all walks of life whether they think the World Cup has been a good thing and 19 out of 20 will say, emphatically, 'YES!' But the World Cup has not just brought euphoria and self-belief to South Africa, the intangible benefits of staging the greatest sporting event on earth cannot be under-estimated. In the six years since they won the right to host the World Cup, South Africans have had to endure countless claims that the country would not be ready in time. Conspiracy theories abounded that Fifa would suddenly announce that USA with its ready-made stadia were to step in at the last moment. This tournament has done wonders for the country's reputation: the world knows that South Africa can deliver and that can only mean great things for the country in terms of its commercial and economic future. The investment that has poured into the country over the last six years might have dripped in over 26 years had the World Cup not come. Yes, Africa is a continent of contrasts and in South Africa the extremes are more apparent than in most countries. But the racial splits of the past, constructed by apartheid, are slowly breaking down and wealth is now the biggest difference between the haves and the have nots. In Sandton, the wealthy commercial area of Johannesburg, the expensive restaurants are now as much frequented by blacks as whites - though not often at the same tables - when 20 years ago they would have been legally prevented from doing so. The World Cup has helped further break down these racial divides. Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the local organising committee, said at the weekend: "We have seen black and white side by side at fan parks and stadiums, when for many years these people were prohibited by law to sit together." There is much still to be done, and there have been regrettable misuses of money here, such as the chiefs of government departments using public cash to purchase match tickets for their cronies. One can be sure that the cynics and the 'told-you-so' experts will point to those incidents and argue that the World Cup in South Africa was a waste of money that left no lasting legacy to the country. But we should not fall for that one. South Africa has made one point very dramatically: that this tournament need no longer be the preserve of the rich and powerful.

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