With the conclusion of the World Cup in South Africa this weekend, the international media, organisers and politicians have been emphasising the advantages of a wonderful but very expensive sports spectacle, lauded by many as the best World Cup yet.
Despite two years of difficult global economic conditions, the organisers went ahead with ambitious stadia and transport infrastructure programs, creating jobs for some 115 000 South Africans during the four year build-up to the event.
Spain and Holland, which played off in the final Sunday with the former winning, are also set to reap the benefits of extensive betting and worldwide coverage, according to the experts. And bookmakers everywhere are thought to have done well out of more than one unexpectedly early departure by top national teams.
But the biggest winner from the one-month tournament was FIFA. According to widespread media reports, the international football body benefited by US$ 3.2 billion in television rights and marketing revenue, up 30 percent on 2006. And FIFA will not pay a cent in taxes or fees to the host country, thanks to legislative amendments made in South Africa especially for the championship.
It is estimated that South Africa spent at least R40 billion on extensive transport and communications infrastructural improvements and the construction of ten state-of-the-art stadia for the event. Intangible benefits like national reconciliation and confidence have been listed among the advantages, but in more pragmatic assessments, the tourism industry enjoyed a substantial boost and global publicity that could have beneficial impact for years to come.
Television coverage alone was extensive, showcasing the country, its achievements and its scenic beauty and advanced business infrastructure. Literally billions across the world watched the 64 games in the tournament and attendant news and publicity.
The Netherlands and Spain expect an acceleration of economic growth by between 0.25 percent and 0.5 percent as a result of their exciting ride to the final clash.
Television companies were reporting new viewership records even before the grand finale on Sunday, which featured sophisticated technology in a vibrant closing ceremony.
Audiences in the US – where soccer is not a leading sport – surged by 50 percent. In Germany, the semi-final against Spain alone was watched by an unprecedented 32 million people, and in Spain at least a third of the total population were glued to television sets.
The billions of viewers around the globe also saw for the first time a large advertising presence by very ambitious Asian corporations like Hyundai.