Author: Joseph Opio
Agency: Twenty Ten
Headline: World Cup windfall: Might it all end in tears?
Article Synopsis: The declaration of South Africa as host of the 2010 World Cup sparked off a frenzied rat race among African nations to reap as many benefits from the showpiece as possible. Countries are hoping to yield significant dividends both from tourists and teams looking for training bases ahead of the finals.
First Paragraph: Sir Winston Churchill is long departed. But a world away from Britain, in a landlocked East African nation, the iconic statesman is being resurrected from his slumber among the dead to help Uganda earn a windfall from the 2010 World Cup.
Keywords: Churchill, Uganda, 2010, World Cup, football, South Africa, England
Text:The declaration of South Africa as host of the 2010 World Cup sparked off a frenzied rat race among African nations to reap as many benefits from the showpiece as possible. Countries are hoping to yield significant dividends both from tourists and teams looking for training bases ahead of the finals. Yet, where rival nations have elected to utilise textbook campaigns to win the cutthroat race, Uganda has settled for the novel concept of reawakening the dead. Will it have the desired effect? Or could it all end in tears for Uganda and the rest? Joseph Opio writes.
Sir Winston Churchill is long departed. But a world away from Britain, in a landlocked East African nation, the iconic statesman is being resurrected from his slumber among the dead to help Uganda earn a windfall from the 2010 World Cup. Churchill, an orator of legend, died on the 24th of January 1965. But before his demise, the late British Prime Minister penned a spellbinding memoir in 1908 upon which Uganda’s current World Cup crusade revolves. Churchill had traversed the African continent for some time when he famously authored his autobiographical account “My African Journey.”
In this adventurous tour de force, the future Nobel laureate famously scribbled: “My journey is at an end, the tale has been told. The reader who has followed so faithfully and so far has a right to ask what message I bring back. It can be stated in three words: Concentrate upon Uganda!” That, in itself, remains a sufficiently ringing endorsement of this country of 23 million inhabitants.
But Churchill wasn’t done. “My counsel plainly is – concentrate upon Uganda! Nowhere else in Africa will little money go so far? Nowhere else will results be more brilliant, more substantial or more rapidly realised. Uganda is from end to end a ‘beautiful garden’ where staple food of the people grows almost without labour.”
Churchill, as was his wont, signed this flowery chronicle with a distinct flourish: “Does it not sound like a paradise on earth? It is the Pearl of Africa.” Churchill’s description of Uganda as the gem of the continent is a century old. But it’s a description that the Ugandan government is willing to bank on to sway one or two World Cup finalists into setting up their pre-World Cup training bases within the country. “We believe that Churchill’s assertion that Uganda is the most beautiful African country should suffice as an eye-catching advertisement in our bid to attract one or two World Cup teams to camp here,” states Edwin Muzahura, Marketing Manager of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB).
UTB has been charged with the task of coordinating the “World Cup” promotion campaign. And according to Muzahura, Churchill’s flattering narrative about Uganda provides the perfect cornerstone for that campaign. “Churchill was a hard man to please. But he was overwhelmed with wonder when he visited Uganda,” Muzahura states. “Churchill is as reliable a voice as one can find. If he wrote that Uganda was the finest country in Africa, I think it’s likely that most people who know nothing about our country will have reason to believe him.”
Muzahura’s superior, Serapio Rukundo, is the minister of Tourism. He’s optimistic that Uganda’s unique Churchill-driven approach will harvest dividends before, during and after the 2010 World Cup. “When South Africa won the right to host the World Cup, we immediately realised that the World Cup will benefit the entire continent, and not only South Africa. In fact, on that historic day, [South African President] Thabo Mbeki labeled it “Africa’s World Cup” and pledged that the first-ever World Cup to be staged on African soil would profit Africa as a whole.”
Rukundo continues: “The South African Sports Minister [Makhenkesi Stofile] later cautioned that countries would need to go out and market themselves as ideal tourism destinations to benefit fully from the World Cup.” Rukundo believes that equity helps the vigilant. “We heeded the minister’s advice. Uganda wants to attract teams to set up training bases here and we are proactively courting these teams by showcasing why Uganda should be their desired pre-World Cup destination.”
Rukundo reveals that the Churchillian element to the campaign was partly inspired by the fact that, like most African nations, Uganda would love to play host to England’s training camp most. This is because the English team is the most recognisable brand in the region. “It would be a massive coup if Uganda hosted England’s pre-World Cup training base. Through Churchill, we partly wanted to highlight the shared history between Uganda and England. Churchill was the British Premier. Uganda was colonised by Britain. Churchill visited Uganda and loved it. We developed this concept fully aware that it could enhance our chances if we proved and advertised these past relations with England.”
Rukundo’s faith in the Churchillian effect isn’t without foundation. Just two years ago, Uganda won the right to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting [CHOGM] on the back of a “Gifted By Nature” crusade that reminded the world how Churchill’s description of Uganda still rang true 100 years later. The Meeting, chaired by Queen Elizabeth and attended by the entire British Royal family, attracted 53 heads of state.
“What we’re telling potential World Cup teams like England and Brazil is that if we could host so many VIPs, including royalty, then we should be given due consideration as a training base,” Rukundo affirms. “The team that chooses to camp in Uganda will not only enjoy the usual benefits guaranteed in other African countries. But it will also enjoy our unique combination of natural and human endowments, warm hospitality and geo-tourism destination potential.”
While Rukundo’s ministry tackles the challenge of making Uganda visible on the tourism radar, Sports minister, Charles Bakkabulindi confronts the sporting aspect of the campaign with relish. Bakkabulindi’s ministry has already ensured Uganda’s FIFA-approved stadium at Namboole is fit to host a training camp come 2010. Namboole, a 40,202-seater facility, is being refurbished to enable it to host warm-up games early next year.
“The opportunities at Namboole are limitless because it was constructed as a sports complex and not just a football ground,” Bakkabulindi says. “From the hotel with a swimming pool to grounds for athletics, tennis, basketball and volleyball; it’s the complete article and we are also working towards giving the stadium hotel a new facelift.” He adds: “We made our initial enquiry about participating in the 2010 World Cup way back in 2007. FIFA informed us that this is a good opportunity open to countries around Africa.”
Private stake in the World Cup bid
Not that it’s just the government at the frontline. The bid to attract a World Cup finalist to set up camp in Uganda has been embraced by the private sector as well. Predictably Anglo-centric, the leading private entity in the campaign has set its eyes on the England national team. Proline Academy is fronted by Mujib Kasule, an ex-Ugandan international who has carved out a reputation as a football entrepreneur. In his pursuit of a training camp base, Kasule has already invited a number of England players to the country. Perhaps Proline’s finest moment arrived last summer when it hosted England and Manchester United defender, Rio Ferdinand. Ferdinand had expected to sneak in and out of the country unnoticed.
But the defender was in for a pleasant surprise. “I thought there might be the odd fan and a couple of workers from the football school at the airport,” Ferdinand said of the throng that jammed the 10-mile route from Entebbe airport to the capital, Kampala. “But I disembarked to this crowd of enthusiastic, branch-waving people. I was waving out of the window in response. But then was told that I should really acknowledge it so I stood out of the open roof. At one point, I welled up within emotion.” With his convoy held up for hours by hysterical fans anxious to catch a sight of him, Ferdinand had enough time to appreciate the passion for football that Ugandans possess.
And so struck was he by this that he pledged £300,000 to Proline Academy. “I would like to see Uganda produce players like Didier Drogba and Michael Essien, Emmanuel Adebayor, Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure in future.” He added that “to see the passion among Ugandans was humbling. If we brought Manchester United here, I think there would be mayhem. There would be riots and stuff. If you saw what happened with just me here, can you imagine what would happen if all the other United players came over? They live and breathe football here, they love it.”
Aside from the manic crowds, Ferdinand’s trip to Uganda sprung upon him one more surprise. The United ace scored an unexpected audience with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who offered him a 12-acre piece of prime land on which to build his academy. Caught off guard by the meeting and the generous gift, Ferdinand responded by presenting the president with an autographed jersey of Manchester United.
Ferdinand’s instant love affair with Ugandans was consummated when, three days after he departed, it emerged that he had bought a five-bedroomed villa in the country. Kensington Luxury Apartments, the sellers of the mansion, used the sale as an advertising concept, plastering Ferdinand all over billboards in town with the simple exhortation: “I’m delighted to have a home in Uganda. Come, be my neighbour.”
For a nation desperate to host a pre-World Cup training base, Ferdinand’s decision to purchase a house in Uganda and his enthusiastic reaction to his reception were Godsends. The fact that since his visit, Ferdinand has convinced his dad Julian, his brother Anton [of Sunderland], his cousin Les [an ex-England international] and Aston Villa’s Nigel Reo-Coker to come to Uganda also bodes well. Father Julian is now the patron of his son’s £300,000 project while brother Anton, an England international, confessed he had been inspired to visit after countless warm tales from Ferdinand. “Rio told me the terrific reception he got and how fantastic the Ugandan people are.”
While enlisting the ancient-modern pair of Churchill and Ferdinand to lure World Cup qualifiers and tourists to Uganda seems inspired, the people behind the campaign aren’t about to rest on their laurels. They remain too aware of the drawbacks of Uganda’s bid to indulge in complacency. “Our main challenge is distance,” concedes sports minister Bakkabulindi. “Uganda is relatively close to South Africa. Four hours away by plane. Having said that, there are so many other countries that are closer. Countries like Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. We know it will take something special to beat these strategically-located countries in the race to attract pre-World Cup bases.” With FIFA having ruled that only countries within 90 minutes of South Africa will be allowed to host team bases during the World Cup, Uganda has only the pre-World Cup training camps to fight for. Bakkabulindi is determined to at least secure this ‘consolation prize.’
All said and done though, it has to be asked whether this will be the promised ‘African’ World Cup, with benefits accruing to an entire continent, and not just the hosts. FIFA and South Africa have tried to ensure that the 2010 World Cup is shared. Earlier this year, South Africa instigated a change in World Cup rules to allow visiting teams to be based in neighbouring countries during the 2010 finals. In the past, the 31 visiting teams could set up training camps outside the host country before the finals. But they were required by FIFA decree to relocate to the host nation at least seven days before their opening matches and remain there for the entire duration of the tournament.
That has changed. FIFA proved sympathetic to the proposed rule change, allowing teams to set up bases outside South Africa during the World Cup, provided said teams fly into the host nation on the day before their matches. This rule change, which would also ease pressure on accommodation in South Africa, initially inspired an outbreak of optimism. Zimbabwe and Portuguese-speaking Mozambique dispatched delegations to Brazil, New Zealand and Portugal to start a courtship campaign with these qualifiers. Malawi similarly sought tentative discussions with England while Namibia approached former colonial masters, Germany.
Two factors have however succeeded in dampening that initial surge of optimism. The first is financial and has been a fixture at the World Cup since time immemorial. World Cup finalists are aware that basing their camps in a particular country always provides a guaranteed windfall for the lucky hosts.
To cash in on their star appeal, finalists have been known to instigate bidding wars among countries, with teams usually camping in any nation that emerges as the highest bidder. This state of affairs was amply evidenced at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. At that particular showpiece, the Brazilian national team famously held out for $4m to locate its training camp in Hiroshima, Japan. When the Japanese failed to match that asking price, Brazil ended up camping in the southern port city of Ulsan, Korea.
Similarly, the Ecuadorean squad was initially meant to camp in Tottori, a Japanese town that hoped to raise $5.4m in revenue by hosting the team. But when Tottori failed to meet Ecuador’s $0.7m demand, the South Americans decided to camp in Tokyo. Africans joined in on the act when the Nigerian FA employed an agent to demand $0.7m for accommodation for the team and officials, on top of a $0.15m agent fee for himself. While some towns backed out, refusing to be held at ransom, others like Izumo shelled out $0.46m to host a 40-member group from Ireland. Nagano paid $0.6m to host Paraguay and Hokkaido spent $0.6m for the pleasure of hosting the Mexicans.
Countries like Uganda which hope to host camps for the 2010 soccer get-together fear that this prohibitive trend might be resurrected. But even if it is, countries willing to pay for the privilege of hosting a 2010 finalist might not have any takers. Despite FIFA’s change of heart, most World Cup qualifiers seem disinterested in setting up World Cup bases outside South African borders. The hosts have established 42 potential bases across South Africa. And with 16 finalists already confirmed to have chosen their favourite base camps inside the Rainbow nation, things look pear-shaped indeed for those African nations hoping to share in the World Cup pie. Sickeningly for Uganda, England is among the 16 nations who have set their eyes on South Africa. England’s manager, Fabio Capello is said to have already earmarked the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus in Rustenburg as his first-choice base.
The elite sports complex, blessed with 14 pitches, a swimming pool and full medical facilities, is situated 1,500 metres above sea level. Capello believes it will help England acclimatise for the 2,000 metres altitude in Johannesburg where the World Cup final will be played on July 11. Following England is Italy, which wants its World Cup base to be at the same Centurion Sports Complex that it used during the Confederations Cup. Paraguay, the other finalists, have similarly decided to base themselves within South Africa, in the Western Cape town of Mossel Bay.
Fellow South Americans Argentina confirmed Pretoria’s High Performance Centre as their World Cup base after being impressed with its facilities during the Confederations Cup. That the same Pretoria High Performance Centre has also attracted serious interest from 14 other qualified countries has inspired knotted brows in Uganda. If all World Cup finalists sabotage the spirit of FIFA’s noble rule change and set up bases inside South Africa, African countries eager to partake of the World Cup cake could be left to brawl over pre-tournament training camps.
But that’s also assuming finalists want to have their pre-World Cup camps in Africa! England has already revealed that its pre-tournament training camp will be in the high altitude Alps of Austria. Likewise, Mexico intends to assemble for acclimatisation sessions, not in Uganda or Mozambique, but in the southern German city of Herzogenaurach. Kenya had approached the Italians after watching them struggle in the high altitude of Johannesburg and Pretoria during the Confederations Cup.
But the Kenyans were heartbroken to learn that the defending champions will instead acclimatise with a training camp in the Alps of northern Italy. Such dire news could leave African countries counting, not the anticipated windfall, but the cost of harbouring lofty expectations from the World Cup. Countries like Uganda invested heavily in upgrading facilities and promoting the country to World Cup qualifiers.
Sports minister Bakkabulindi reveals that the government pumped in excess of $1m into face-lifting Namboole stadium. “The repair project cost in excess of $1m and we’re hoping it will be worth every penny,” Bakkabulindi discloses. “The repairs included overhauling the scoreboard, repairing the tartan track and improving the floodlights, plus rehabilitating the hotel.” Bakkabulindi’s Namboole expenditure is dwarfed by his compatriots at the tourism ministry. The ministry has spent a mini-fortune selling Uganda’s image as a potential destination of choice.
Uganda quadrupled its tourism marketing budget in the past two financial years, allocating $2m to a sector which had only attracted $0.5m in the past. Neighbours Kenya pumped $0.25m towards the maintenance of the national stadia, but it might all be in vain if their targeted finalists don’t turn up. The same dire fate confronts Zimbabwe, which spent around $20m on sprucing up long-neglected hotels and recommended the construction of new stadia, including one in the resort town of Victoria Falls, in the hopes of generating some $50m in tourism revenue.
Ditto Malawi, which spent heavily on the rehabilitation of the Kamuzu Stadium; Mozambique which instituted a near overhaul of their hospitality infrastructure, including a new 42 000-seater stadium and Angola, which was hoping to use their new stadia post-Nations Cup as hosting grounds for warm-up matches.
God forbid, but if this nightmare scenario were to play out, African teams jostling for World Cup benefits might realise, too late, that what seemed like a rare money-minting opportunity was a treacherous financial minefield all along. Just the kind of nightmarish prospect the Ugandan tourism industry can’t bear thinking about. And just the type of depressing probability that would have Churchill turning in his grave.