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Tue. February 27, 2024
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Fifa has to call Zimbabwe’s bluff
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Can South Africa match Germany’s success in hosting the World Cup? After an exemplary event displaying positive German stereotypes (punctuality, organisation skills ...) with a surprising sunny side, the football world looks toward 2010 with trepidation. SA is behind schedule on preparations for the games. Fifa, soccer’s governing body, might yet consider the US or Australia as backup. Further blurring the picture, Zimbabwe, perhaps the worst-governed nation on a continent plagued by corrupt regimes, wants to be an official games venue, an attractive camp location for competing teams, and a strong spillover tourist lure. Zimbabwe’s tourist authority wants “to ensure Zimbabwe benefits from the hosting of the World Cup by SA”, and notes Fifa already pledges assistance for upgrading sports stadiums to that end. Visitors and participants in the 2010 festivities are free to go anywhere, and if an inflation rate that recently declined to 1100%-plus is attractive, Harare is the place for you. But Fifa likes to send political signals. That is why it chose Africa. They should not send Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe any public relations victories by underwriting any official or semiofficial role for it in 2010. Fifa punished Greece for “undue government interference” in football, and it is hard to believe it would encourage Harare to host any component of the next World Cup. The Mugabe litany is astounding for its vile mix of raving incompetence, theft, murder and — it nearly sounds quaint — immorality. By destroying land rights, handing favours only to “family” (some by blood, some by acquisition), starving his people to death, stamping out opposition and destroying a once-buoyant economy with quadruple-digit inflation, Mugabe makes it impossible to separate sport from politics in this case. If ever an exception proved a rule, this is it. Fifa owes the world more than this, and so does SA. Of course Zimbabwe should play and qualify if they can (it would be a first for “The Warriors”), but be denied any chance of putting on a “Potemkin Village” show for Cup fans. Governments have been pusillanimous enough about laying down the law to Mugabe. The symbolic importance of what Fifa does with his regime should not be underestimated. SA understands the symbolism. As the Wall Street Journal says: “Promoters hope the tournament will provide a boost of national confidence and cohesion. South Africans are hoping for an economic bonanza.” With the Cup spotlight on southern Africa, this is a rare chance to shame Mugabe into meeting minimal standards of modern civilised governance in treating his people. Ending “land reform” (confiscation for the benefit of Mugabe cronies), respecting political opposition, regularising elections, and freeing up an independent judiciary are the least the world should expect from Zimbabwe. For that matter, so long as the South African venue remains in question at all, why not pressure President Thabo Mbeki to stop giving economic support and tactical aid and comfort to the Mugabe regime? It may be naïve to think the world’s favourite sport could do for the people of Zimbabwe what years of aimless talks, “targeted” sanctions, tied aid, untied aid and moral posturing could not do. But how will we ever know, unless Fifa makes the effort? Zimbabwe tourism chief Karikoga Kaseke complains some Cup organisers wanted Zimbabwe excluded for all the above reasons, but “after explaining to them” they understood Zimbabwe was “just like any other in the region”. That bluff must be called. Rewarding Mugabe with an international stage makes Zimbabwe the “norm” for Africa (what a bleak thought!) If handled intelligently (dum spiramus speramus; while we breathe we hope) by Fifa member governments, in alliance with concerned businesses and philanthropies, astonishing things might happen. Sport, so long as it sticks with clear rules and objective judgments, provides a kind of crisp moral clarity lacking from too many human endeavours. No compromises were allowed in Germany’s hosting of the Cup; none for Zimbabwe either. George A. Pieler is Senior Fellow with the Institute for Policy Innovation. Jens F. Laurson is Editor-in-Chief of the International Affairs Forum.

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