I wasn’t a huge fan, but I remember an episode of the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray falls out with wife Debra because she’s cleaning the house before they have visitors. I couldn’t find a video clip, but thanks to the excellent OpenSubtitles.org I can quote the argument verbatim. Imagine Ray sitting down and Debra aggressively tidying around him:
Ray: Ow! Why do you always do this? Every time we have people over we spend all day making the fake house.
Debra: lt’s not fake. lt’s the way the house should be all the time.
Ray: But it isn’t, so actually it’s like lying, huh, right? ls that what you’re about, lying to people?
Debra: Could you just start clearing everything off the rug, please?
What does this have to do with football you ask? Well, turns out South Africa are “making the fake house” for World Cup 2010 by removing the homeless population from World Cup venue cities and temporarily dumping them into overcrowded settlements.
Basically the World Cup organizers want the streets looking nice and shiny for June and July 2010 and that involves moving the homeless far, far away. If the relocated people were being given somewhere relatively comfortable for the duration of World Cup 2010, then maybe this would be OK. But according to reports the 300 individuals who’ve been removed from Cape Town so far “have been taken to nearby Blikkiesdorp camp on Cape Flats, where 1,450 families are packed into an area designed for 450 people.” Similarly, 800 people have already been removed from Johannesburg.
Johannesburg councillor Sipho Masigo was unrepentant. “Homelessness and begging are big problems in the city,” he said. “You have to clean your house before you have guests. There is nothing wrong with that. “The numbers of homeless are in the hundreds, leading up to thousands.” Clearly councilor Masigo is the Debra in this argument, while the role of Raymond is played by people like Bill Rogers and Warren Whitfield.
Bill Rogers, who works with the homeless in Johannesburg, said: “Rather than help people permanently, the government’s obvious intention is to release them back on the streets after the World Cup.”
Warren Whitfield, of homeless charity Addiction Action, added: “It’s a cosmetic fix to create an impression of South Africa for football fans which is not real.
“We have huge problems with homelessness and that is what the world should see.”
Apologies for making light of this with references to syndicated sitcoms. But this is one of those situations that makes me so depressed about the state of humanity that I need to approach it less than directly. What’s most depressing is that this isn’t rare when it comes to international sporting events. The Ghanaian government literally burned shanty towns to the ground to make Kumasi look a bit nicer for Africa Cup of Nations 2008, while China’s very polished hosting of the 2008 Olympics was apparently the result of an increase in human rights abuses.
I’m sure we’ll continue to celebrate sporting events like the World Cup as the joyous global spectacles that they are. It’s hard not to, because they’re so damn enjoyable. But when we applaud the host nation for how smoothly everything seems to run during a given tournament, it’s worth remembering that the shiny spectacle we’re seeing is a fake house, and it was made to look that way by sweeping someone else’s suffering under the rug.