World Cup program has local ties
Boston is developing a unique relationship with the 2010 World Cup, thanks to South Africa Partners. The nonprofit organization is conducting a program called World Cup Boston 2010, which intends to spotlight the tournament that kicks off in Johannesburg June 11.
The campaign is part of South Africa Partners’ mission to develop ties with the United States in economic development, education, and health. Using the World Cup as a platform seemed like a no-brainer to executive director Mary Tiseo.
“One thing we found doing things with the mayor is everyone knows Boston is a sports town,’’ Tiseo said. “But what people hadn’t realized until World Cup started to percolate is, more people play soccer [in the Boston area] than any other sport and they follow the game. And it is the most popular sport in the world. This has allowed people to engage in a sport they really care about.’’
Mayor Thomas M. Menino has announced support for the city as a possible venue should the United States be awarded future World Cups.
“Soccer is really an important sport in Boston,’’ Tiseo said. “The 2018/2022 World Cup bid, the city is pushing for that.’’
This year’s World Cup will focus unprecedented global coverage on Africa.
“Most of the news we get from Africa is war, disease, or famine, that’s basically the news that comes through to us here,’’ Tiseo said. “Through this process, people are coming to understand there is a very different environment than they thought of in South Africa. The stadiums are absolutely gorgeous and as people see more about the country, it looks a lot of like the US in many ways.
“That’s a starting place — Africa is similar to us rather than different. As one of the organizations trying to keep connections strong and actually deepen them, this is an opportunity for us to engage people’s interest in South Africa, show how they can get more involved.’’
Boston/Foxborough was a venue for the 1994 World Cup and the area is designated as a birthplace for American soccer, attested by a monument to the Oneida Football Club, which was playing on Boston Common in the 1860s. But you have to go across the Public Garden to Commonwealth Avenue for a statue of William Lloyd Garrison, whose abolitionist movement fed the tradition of the area’s anti-apartheid activism, according to Tiseo.
Harvard University and University of Massachusetts students led the way in divestment campaigns — though Harvard never did divest in South Africa, instead setting up a scholarship program for South African students — and MIT students staged protests.
Pressure from the Boston Coalition for the Liberation of South Africa led to the Massachusetts Legislature declaring doing business with companies involved in South Africa illegal in 1983, the Boston City Council to divest in 1984, and local portfolio managers to organize a plan that led to a social investment movement.
“I think there’s always been a base around South Africa because of the anti-apartheid movement locally,’’ Tiseo said, “and there are still lots of people who are interested in South Africa and would like to be involved. This project has helped awareness about South Africa.’’
Among the events scheduled is a mini-World Cup at Moakley Field, youth teams representing nations participating in the real event. Tiseo will remain in Boston during the World Cup, involved in “viewing parties’’ around the city; a July 8 screening of “More Than Just a Game,’’ the story of a soccer league at Robben Island prison; and the July 11 showing in City Hall Plaza of the World Cup final from Johannesburg.
“The country is just completely engaged with World Cup,’’ Tiseo said of South Africa. “Any airport you go to, the countdown clock is there, and every corporation has a World Cup kiosk and activities to do. It’s on billboards and people talk about it all the time — the excitement is building.’’
As for the downside, relocating people, investing in stadiums instead of other needs, Tiseo said: “There are issues over settlements in certain places that have accelerated people out of informal shacks into formal housing and moving out of areas. There is tension over that, but that is normal, and that conversation is going on there. But I think most people feel like, on balance, as they say, it is a positive experience. The World Cup will bring in more money than it spends and introduce South Africa to the world. It will bring benefits to the country long beyond when it’s over and teams have gone home.’’
“[Red Star] is a big club which introduces a lot of good players,’’ Preki, now coaching Toronto FC, said recently. “It’s a good club with a lot of talent and that’s how the club lives, when they sell some of these young players — that’s how they survive. People live and die for that club — big tradition. Hopefully they’re on the way back. The last few years they’ve been struggling, but this year they’re very decent.’’
Yugoslavia would not allow players to depart for European clubs until they were at least 28. Preki, though, was allowed to leave at 22 because he was going to the United States.
“It would have been difficult for me to go any place in Europe, but not in the States,’’ Preki said. “You don’t make a lot of money in Serbia at a young age. Some had to wait until they were 28 and some never made it, either they became too old or got injured. But, obviously, there is a lot of talent. And, with the change in rules, that’s why you see so many guys at a young age leave from that part of the world.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.