Africa Cup of Nations not an economic success | Africa | DW | 08.02.2013
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Africa Cup of Nations not an economic success

The Africa Cup of Nations, hosted by South Africa, ends on Sunday (10.02.2013). But the colorful event was neither the business nor the sporting success the organizers had hoped for.

Nigeria and Burkina Faso do not have to put up with empty seats for the final because the game, which will be held in Johannesburg's Soccer City, is sold out. This is the sort of news that the organisers are only too happy to spread.

"There have been millions and millions of people that have watched this through TV. We have thousands and thousands that have gone to public viewing areas to go in and watch and support this tournament," said Mvuzo Mbebe, CEO of the Local Organizing Committee

But the stadiums were half-empty. Ghana, Mali and Niger, which played their group stage games in the idyllic Port Elizabeth, found themselves facing very sparse crowds. Just 37,000 people showed up for the now classic semi-final between Mali and Nigeria in Durban. There was room for twice as many people.

No money for tickets

But a lack of enthusiasm for football wasn't to blame for the lack of fans in South Africa's stadiums. Football is after all the most popular sport among black South Africans, who make up the majority of the population. Poverty is to blame, Professor Patrick Bond, a professor of development studies at Durban's University of KwaZulu-Natal, told DW.

Young boys play soccer at a township in Port Elizabeth (Siphiwe Sibeko/REUTERS)

Most South Africans, especially those living in townships couldn't afford tickets for the games

"The distance to the stadiums and the economic conditions that [black South Africans] are suffering from – worsening unemployment and rising poverty levels – mean that unlike rugby and cricket, which have many white fans, it is very hard to attract some black fans into the stadiums," he said. 

The cheapest tickets for games were going for 4 euros (about $5). But the comfortable white minority isn't really that interested in football. Most of them are into rugby or cricket, Bond adds.

The empty seats in the stadiums couldn't be filled by the fans of the other countries taking part in the tournament.

"In Africa, it is very difficult to have supporters traveling alongside their teams, because of the issue of poverty, economics and all of that," said George Addo Jr, a sports journalist at Accra-based Joy FM.

Unlike the World Cup in 2010, which brought in fans from every continent, there weren't enough people who were ready to fork out money for travel and tickets.

Every South African is paying

This Africa Cup cannot be considered an economic success. In South African newspapers, businessmen and restaurant owners from cities where games where played have been expressing their disappointment. They had been hoping for a lot of business from fans, only to be let down.

Soccer fans celebrating the AFCON games in Johannesburg. (Photo: Thuso Khumalo/DW)

South Africa fans celebrating at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations

What is especially upsetting is that every South African helped to finance the tournament, whether they watched the games or not. The South African government spent 33 million euros ($44 million) on the torunament, according to local daily Mail & Guardian. And the cities where the games were played also spent additional sums on the tournament. Many of them have also had to financially support the stadiums, which had not been used since the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The revenue from league games or concerts is mostly lower than maintenance costs. Because of the low attendance, the Africa Cup of Nations has hardly helped to fill the accounts of the stadium operators.

Mood evolved during the tournament

The mood at the Africa Cup of Nations rose in the course of the tournament, especially during the quarter- and semi-finals. And it wasn't just South Africans, immigrants from other African countries were also there to cheer their teams on. Thousands of Nigerians living in Durban, were in the stadium to cheer their team on after they beat Mali 4-1 in the semi-final, according DW's South Africa correspondent, Subry Govinder.

The fact that host country South Africa was eliminated early did no harm. After the group stage, many of its fans, dreaming of a second Africa Cup after the one in 1996, had their hopes dashed by Mali in the quarter-finals. But the head of South Africa Football Association, Kirsten Nematandani, appealed to the fans to support the remaining teams, saying that his country would be presenting a bad image if stadiums were empty.

Reconciliation through football

South Africa wanted to present itself as a good host. After the country's xenophobic attacks against African immigrants in 2008, its image as the "rainbow nation" had suffered some damage. And there were hopes that would change through the Africa Cup of Nations games. Whether that is the case, is something that only fans, participants and other stakeholders can judge. At least the organizers are satisfied. The tournament was a success, said the Secretary General of the Confederation of African Football, Hicham El Amrani.

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