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South Africa Hopes Cup Will Runneth Over

The World Cup has everyone in South Africa excited, the New York Times reports, even people with little to be excited about:

The World Cup begins here on Friday with excitement at so elevated a level that even many of the unhappy are happy. Tshepo Makwala, a laborer, has no job, no prospects, and, worst of all, no ticket to any of the 64 games. Still, it thrills him that soccer’s biggest event is for the first time taking place in Africa. “This isn’t one for the Guinness Book of Records; it’s for the Guinness Book of Miracles,” he said.

A Cape Town native said in Vietnam that he had never seen the country so excited. After all, ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable that Soweto could host a World Cup football match, an announcer said during an otherwise desultory match between the Netherland and Denmark.

The Cup is a watershed moment in South Africa’s long march upward since the end of apartheid and hopefully a much-needed tonic for the country’s economy. Critics have condemned the spectacle of such a poor nation spending billions of dollars it could be using to house the poor and overhaul decrepit infrastructure. But cities rarely host marquee sporting events for the immediate economic impact. In fact, they usually lose money. The hope, rather, is that the event gives the city the kind of exposure ad campaigns cannot buy. Thus did Singapore decide to lure Formula 1. Ditto Abu Dhabi.

There is evidence already that the Cup is help South Africa reach a class of visitors that might not otherwise have put it on their itinerary. Visa reported Monday that South Africa saw a 34 percent increase in inbound tourism spending during the first quarter of 2010. With any luck, they’ll be back even if the World Cup won’t.

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