The World Cup effect

It’s that time again. Millions of people from all over the world have come down with acute cases of football/soccer fever, which at this time is also frequently associated with another (much more sinister) form of illness – chronic nationalistic fervour. The lure of football on an international stage and nationalistic pride are drawing people’s attention to the world’s most marginalized continent (or at least to South Africa). Some hardcore fans are even visiting – those who may not have even thought of travelling to Africa had it not been for the World Cup.

I suppose we should be happy about this attention. Most of the time, from the perspective of the Western media, Africa barely exists. All the complexities and diversity of the 53 countries on this continent, all the politics, the issues, the events, the people, the success stories, the conflicts, boiled down to one or two scattered stories here and there. And the few articles that there are, tend to be loaded with simplistic narratives (‘heart of darkness’ or humanitarian tragedy). Rarely is there a serious attempt at political analysis. This is, of course, nothing like the saturation coverage and detailed analysis showered upon the industrialized countries and the Middle East. 

So what benefits will this World Cup effect bring? How optimistic should we be about the crumbs of media coverage that will fall off the table reserved for the more ‘important’ regions of the world? I am not all that hopeful.

On its website, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has put up a “special report” entitled “Africa 2010: A continent’s moment on the world stage”. And what a fitting title it is, because a “moment” is about all that Africa will probably get.

Reporters will direct the bulk of their attention to coverage of the World Cup itself, but, to make all the costs worthwhile, will probably venture into Soweto and other places, doing a piece or two on how far South Africa has come since the end of apartheid. Those media corporations with a little bit of extra budget (and an editor in a good mood) might venture outside South Africa, and into relatively accessible neighbouring countries. CBC has at least done an article on the DRC, although the “The Congo turns 50 this month, but will it ever grow up” title leaves a lot to be desired.

Because Africa is seen as having so little news value, very few outside media corporations have a substantial presence in Africa. Of all the supposedly ‘global’ TV news corporations, Al Jazeera has the largest presence in Africa, with all of five bureaus – most have that many bureaus in relatively tiny Europe. Covering Africa therefore means footing the bill to send someone there to get some stories and get out. This is usually someone who has little knowledge or experience of Africa. This is parachute journalism, and expeditions are measured in days, maybe weeks if they are lucky.

Such commercial realities are thought to have played a role in the coverage of the Rwandan genocide. Many reporters were able to cover the genocide because they were already in the area – they were covering the first post-apartheid elections in South Africa. Thus, a similar set of massacres in Burundi a year earlier (more than 200,000 killed – not as many as Rwanda, but far greater than anything in Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor or Israel-Palestine) got no coverage – no one happened to be in the area and Africa had so little news value to warrant sending someone there. And which massacres do we remember, Rwanda or Burundi?

 With so few foreign journalists based in Africa, coverage of Africa tends to end up as a ‘special report’, not a substantive part of the regular news agenda. So unfortunately, when this ‘special’ event is over, the reporters will undoubtedly return to their regular posts and Africa will return to its place on sidelines.

 I guess Africa will just have to take whatever attention it can get, simplistic stereotypes and all. Attention is certainly needed. Heavy fighting continues in Mogadishu, Somalia, and aid coming in for the DRC is so low that the UN is warning of “catastrophic” consequences. Let’s hope those reporters that have made the trip to Africa have something to say about all this during the half-time breaks…

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3 Responses to “The World Cup effect”

  1. I can’t but help feel the World Cup is a benefit for Africa and also mankind.

    Sporting events like this help people put aside difference and come together with a common interest [even if on different teams/countries]. So aside from personal benefits many gain who participate, people not actually participating can gain too in helping them come together where they wouldn’t normally have.

    The fringe benefit in the form of media coverage on the conflicts in the continent may be little in comparison to the World Cup, but I tend to think the world Cup would helping without even having it’s aim to help; perhaps more so than some efforts which target is to actually help.

    I read the CBC article. I like you comment Virgil. I like that CBC had some coverage on these serious issues. Although a small article, which could make it easier to digest for the masses, it is important to have coverage in easy to reach places for people. It is little though and much more is needed, like a blog :)

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, David. I see the positive effects of world events like the World Cup and Olympics that you mention, but I also see the negativity of nationalism. It show to me how powerful feelings of identity can be – which basically means in-group/out-group and pride in being part of a group that is different from (perhaps better than?) others. I don’t think that is very healthy in the long run.
    And while I can understand to a degree identity at a lower level (a village, town, or suburb perhaps), I find national identity pretty difficult to fathom. After all, how can we feel affinity with millions of people we have never met or even heard from? If the media didn’t constantly remind us, we would forget that countries even exist!
    Anyway, that aside, I completely agree on the need to have coverage in easy to reach places – mainstream coverage, and popular blogs (not stealth blogs…)

  3. Yes like anything, there is a negative side.

    I think the Olympics are a great example of a sporting event that facilitates a way for people to be exposed to cultures they possibly would not have been exposed to any other way. This is due to the teams being divided by their nationality; a way to make teams out of a bunch of people.

    In fact, you could even look at it with the view that the sporting events are merely a tool for great things to happen, such as meeting others from cultures you may never have been aware of, with whom you share the commonality of the sport you play or cheer for, and forging great relationships.

    I think the affinity people have with their countrymen could be something on the lines of two people doing the same thing, or wearing something that indicates they both support/like/have done something in common and they instantly feel like that have a rapport and feel confident to start interacting. I think we have all been there.

    Anyway, that is just my 2 cents.

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