I don't often covet things this much, but I want to go to the World Cup in South Africa pretty badly. I spent five months there in 2002 as a proselyting missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints... most of it in the Cape Town region of the country, though I was near Johannesburg for a couple weeks.
South Africa is a stunningly beautiful country with its share of problems. Poverty abounds in what are called townships, essentially shack cities made up of non-whites. While apartheid is no longer law in South Africa, the people continue to segregate themselves pretty effectively, and racial tensions are always high.
Nonetheless, I've wanted to go back pretty much since the day I left. But the prospect of visiting while the nation is hosting the World Cup kicks that desire into overdrive.
If you were paying attention to the time I was there the first time, you'll notice 2002 was a World Cup year, and the way soccer brought all South Africans together was nothing short of amazing. Black, white, colored (a South African term for children of a mixed relationship), it didn't matter. They all loved Bafana Bafana (a nickname for the national team meaning "boys" in Zulu) and cheered them on from their homes and from bars during every match.
I can only imagine what uniting power this event will have on the country, possibly to a long-lasting positive effect, and I'd love to be there to see it.
The Freakonomics bloggers wrote about a temporary effect hosting such a large event can have on a nation.
Hosting an international football event does, however, seem to improve national wellbeing (the “feelgood” factor). The BPS Research Digest blog reports that the games are associated with big happiness boosts: “three times the size of the happiness boost associated with gaining a higher education; one and half times the happiness boost associated with getting married; and nearly large enough to offset the misery triggered by divorce.” The effect, unfortunately, lasts less than a year.
Pretty neat stuff, and a big reason sport is so popular worldwide. You invest a lot into a team, a player, a sport, and then, every once in a while, it all pays off.
Go Bafana Bafana!