World Cup bred expectations in Alexandra township, but it leaves residents feeling jilted

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 11, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- There are no grassy expanses in the cramped township of Alexandra, where corrugated tin shacks huddle side by side. Even the cemetery has run out of room, with bodies buried on top of bodies. What precious open space remains consists of red dirt, dust, rocks and random piles of bricks and used tires.

And that's why the bright green Astroturf of the pint-size soccer field that FIFA installed for its week-long "Football for Hope" program was so arresting.

In the run-up to Sunday's World Cup final, the colorful pitch (roughly one-third regulation size), flanked by blue grandstands and a giant video screen, hosted five-on-five matches among disadvantaged youngsters from around the world and drew a rapt audience in this township that has become a magnet for the poor and dispossessed.

Priced out of World Cup matches, Alexandra's residents packed the stands to blare vuvuzelas and cheer the athletes and breakdancers who entertained between the 12-minute contests.

But once the World Cup ends, the grandstands will be dismantled and the video screen returned, rented for the occasion of soccer's grand spectacle. FIFA will leave behind the scaled-down field to serve as the anchor of a community center it promises to erect in the future.

From the moment South Africa was chosen to host the 2010 World Cup, FIFA officials have vowed that the month-long tournament would leave a legacy. But it's only now, on the eve of Sunday's final between Spain and the Netherlands at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium, that Alexandra's residents are wondering just what was meant by "legacy."

No one is sure.

If that legacy is a matter of the heart, the World Cup has surely achieved that.

The World Cup has united South Africans -- black and white, rich and poor -- in a way nothing has. Pride in being South African after delivering a smoothly run, successful World Cup is deeply felt.

"It will remain our precious thing," said Alexandra resident Agnes Ndou, 42, of the World Cup. "It will be a never-ending history."

But if FIFA's World Cup legacy is something concrete -- such as a full-size soccer pitch, housing or schools in townships overwhelmed by residents' needs -- it has not delivered.

"They told us they're not here to build things," said Thabo Mopasi, a well-known Alexandra community advocate, recalling a meeting with FIFA representatives during the World Cup planning stages. "They are here to bring entertainment."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company