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South Africa activists stage 'Poor People's World Cup'

By Mark Tutton for CNN
  • The 'Poor People's World Cup' is organized by the Cape Town-based Anti-Eviction Campaign
  • People from 40 Cape Town communities have formed 36 teams
  • The AEC has claimed many people are losing their livelihoods due to the World Cup

(CNN) -- South African activists are staging a "Poor People's World Cup" to protest what they say is the exclusion of poor communities from the FIFA tournament.

The Cape Town-based Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) says it is staging the event because most South Africans are not benefiting from the official World Cup.

It says poor people can't afford match tickets and claims traders are being stopped from trading near stadiums, and that people were evicted from their homes in the run up to the competition.

AEC coordinator Ashraf Cassiem told CNN, "It's an attempt by poor people in Cape Town to bring attention to their plight as a result of the World Cup and the effect it has on communities.

"It's a platform created by poor people, for poor people, to expose the evictions and displacements affecting poor people in a negative way."

People from 42 Cape Town communities have formed 36 teams, each of which is representing a World Cup nation -- plus four others.

The tournament, which is free, kicked off on 13 June at a playing field next to Athlone stadium and will continue over the next three Sundays.

It's a platform created by poor people, for poor people, to expose the evictions and displacements affecting poor people in a negative way.
--Ashraf Cassiem, Anti-Eviction Campaign coordinator.

"Everybody is crazy excited about it," said Cassiem. "More than 1,500 turned up despite a lack of transport for fans or communities. People here are really crazy about soccer but won't get the opportunity to participate in the real FIFA World Cup."

Cassiem said that poor South Africans would love the chance to see their footballing heroes play in the FIFA competition, but most can't afford match tickets. The cheapest tickets cost $20, which is more than some people earn in a week, Cassiem said.

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke last month conceded that tickets might be too expensive for most Africans, with just 40,000 people from the rest of Africa traveling to South Africa for the World Cup.

And rather than benefiting financially from the influx of visitors, Cassiem claimed many people are losing their livelihoods.

He said many informal street traders aren't allowed to trade around World Cup stadiums, in an effort to protect FIFA's official partners, and that many street vendors have been cleared from their usual trading locations in a bid to "clean up" Cape Town.

"Even the fan parks are run by FIFA and all goods traded in South Africa now have to be FIFA compliant," said Cassiem.

"If you make goods with '2010' on them, they are confiscated. For the next month and a half at least, FIFA owns all these host cities -- and they get the revenue."

In April, informal traders' spokesperson Cheche Selepe said he believed FIFA should adjust its rules and allow non-sponsors to sell their merchandise inside stadium perimeters.

"This is the African continent, there is great under-development," he told CNN.

"There is big poverty in the country and therefore the majority of those survive in the informal sector of the economy, so to push them aside will be a recipe for disaster as far as we are concerned."

However, FIFA argues that while it has created plenty of opportunities for small and medium-sized South African enterprises to benefit from the tournament, it also has a responsibility to protect its sponsors.

"A stadium is a FIFA perimeter, and within this perimeter there are people who have the rights to do things and others have no rights," Valcke told CNN last month.

In an emailed statement to CNN, a spokeswoman for FIFA said it had been encouraging its partners to give preference to South African companies.

It said Adidas is now producing the majority of its World Cup-related shirts in South Africa and the South African company responsible for catering at stadiums has trained 5500 community staff to provide food and drink at venues during the tournament -- among them many of those who normally sell food in front of the stadiums.

The statement said: "FIFA is not targeting this sector [informal traders] and is letting the host cities run their own informal trading program.

"FIFA just wants [to ensure] that no counterfeits are sold and that the area directly surrounding the stadium is not used, but otherwise it is up to the host cities to regulate this form of trading."

The AEC also claims some Cape Town residents have been moved to "Temporary Relocation Centers" outside the city in order to accommodate regeneration projects for the World Cup, and that homeless people have been removed so as not to offend visiting football fans.

Those claims were denied by city authorities. City of Cape Town spokesperson Kylie Hatton told CNN that while there are FIFA-operated exclusion zones around stadiums, which have certain commercial agreements in place, street traders have not lost out because of the World Cup.

She said informal traders who have been moved to accommodate "Fan Fest" areas -- public screenings of World Cup matches -- are benefiting by being allowed to trade next to the Fan Fest areas and along a 2 ½ kilometer "Fan Walk" from the city's train station.

"There's been no relocation of people as a result of the World Cup," she said, adding that rehousing in temporary relocation centers is part of an ongoing attempt to relieve the city's chronic housing shortage.

Cassiem said there had been one upside to the tournament for poor communities. "They say, 'this benefits us because we get the opportunity to show the world what's really happening in South Africa.'"