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Irish Times Editorial: South Africa Loses

Irish Times Editorial
Friday July 7th 2000

South Africa Loses

A great opportunity was lost yesterday to spread the benefits of sports internationalism more evenly around the world when FIFA voted against awarding the 2006 soccer World Cup to South Africa in favour of Germany. The dramatic final vote, in which the New Zealand delegate abstained despite his mandate to support South Africa, will go down in sporting history as a prime example of how politics and sport have become intertwined. He has a lot of explaining to do - and so have the Asian and European countries who refused to shift towards opening up opportunities for the game in a relatively new sporting environment.

This is the thirteenth occasion on which the World Cup has been held in the richer part of the world. In South Africa disappointed commentators were scathing in their denunciation of the game's commercialisation, which they saw clearly as tilting the balance against them. Germany has undoubtedly a solid case for holding the event, with the most developed facilities and a mature sporting public backing it up. It was well ahead of the case put up by England on both counts, even without the telling absence of hooliganism and violence that has recently once again sullied that country's record during the European championships. South Africa put up a most convincing argument for hosting the World Cup. Its facilities and infrastructure have been prepared over a number of years, in anticipation of a favourable decision. An immense national effort went into the campaign, attracting much good will around the world. Accepting the fact that sport and politics are so closely linked, the bid became a symbol of the country's determination to make its mark internationally. Despite reservations about the levels of crime it appeared sufficient FIFA delegates were willing to take the risk by plumping for a location with so much to recommend it. The New Zealand abstention in the third round of voting gave the decision to Germany by 12 votes to 11, thereby avoiding a tied vote, in which the FIFA chairman had said he would use his casting vote for South Africa. He may well have overplayed his hand, as observers detected an overhanging resentment by Asian delegates over his refusal to increase their representation last year. Once again it is confirmed that in international sport memories are long, pockets deep and factionalism is rampant. That has made for a regrettable decision on this occasion.

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