South Africa World Cup 101: Why is it in Johannesburg?

In 2004, Africa was selected for the first time to host the South Africa World Cup. The competition was between South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. In May of that year, South Africa won the bid.

Martin Meissner/AP
A South African supporter holding replicas of the World Cup trophy at Nelson Mandela square in Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday.

From its beginning in 1930, world soccer's governing body, FIFA, has rotated the South Africa World Cup between its member football associations from continent to continent. In practice, that meant the World Cup was held mostly in Europe and Latin America.

In 2002, Asia hosted the World Cup for the first time, and it was hosted jointly (also a first) by South Korea and Japan.

In 2004, Africa was selected (for the first time) as the continent to host the World Cup, and the competition was between South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

On May 15, 2004, FIFA chairman Sepp Blatter announced that South Africa had won the bid, to the visible satisfaction of visiting dignitaries such as former President Nelson Mandela.

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To win a bid, a country must sign an agreement with FIFA which is tantamount to a treaty between nations.

Some critics in South Africa compare this country’s agreement with FIFA to a foreign occupation, since FIFA has extraordinary rights to fine local businesses, to restrict hawkers from selling unauthorized FIFA products, to ban the sale of beverages or other products of non-sponsoring companies within a certain radius of any World Cup stadium.

South Africa has even agreed to set up 54 special courts to handle World Cup related offenses, such as hooliganism or playing live games on TV in a public place without obtaining a special FIFA licence.

South Africa might seem to be a long distance for football fans, perched as it is on the southern tip of Africa (which explains the name of the country), but the very first World Cup was held in Uruguay, in 1930, a period in history where teams generally had to travel by ship. (Uruguay won that match, 4-2, against perennial rivals Argentina.)

Since 1930, World Cup games have been held every four years (except during World War II), in Italy, France, Brazil, Switzerland, Sweden, Chile, England, Mexico, West Germany, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Italy, USA, France, jointly in Korea and Japan, and Germany.

The next World Cup will be held in Brazil in 2014.

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