Historian Peter Alegi views the whole thing as "a very expensive -- and very expansive -- branding operation. The World Cup is an opportunity to show that South Africa is a modern democracy, technologically advanced, business friendly and also an attractive tourist destination."
There is much to gain from such visibility. But it also carries risks.
Argentina's tournament in 1978 is an example. The country was ruled at the time by a sinister military junta, who, while murdering some 20,000 of its citizens also wanted to use the World Cup to make propaganda for its achievements. A U.S. PR firm was engaged to broadcast the message. But the junta found it hard to understand that the international press would not act like obedient soldiers. Some of the journalists would go looking for stories -- and an excellent one was the protest organization set up by mothers of the 'disappeared.' As a result of the World Cup, their tale was told all over the planet, bringing home to millions the true nature of the regime. There was no PR triumph, and the regime was not mourned anywhere when it collapsed five years later.
Legacy of South Africa's World Cup will take many years to measure
May 26, 2010