Will 2010 World Cup Be Economic Boom or Bust for South Africa?

In fact, only Barcelona – host of the 1992 Summer Olympics – was listed by Baade as a city that has greatly benefited financially from a mega-event.

"I think it's reaching a bit to say that any city has experienced a substantial change in economic activity as a result of a mega-event," he stated.

Critics also claim that South Africa should be spending money not on expensive soccer stadiums but on more pressing issues such as widespread poverty and the highest number of people infected with AIDS in any nation worldwide.

"People argue that you're going to create enough in the way of economic impact from the mega-event that it will enable you to finance other things that you're not otherwise able to do, but the evidence does not support that idea," said Baade.

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The World Cup a Safety Hazard?

On Friday a group of assailants attacked a bus that was transporting Togo's national team to the African Cup in Angola, a tournament featuring the continent's top teams. The attackers killed the driver and wounded four people, according to reports.

Any economic boost will depend on the tournament not being marred by crime or terror, as the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta were by a bombing that killed two people and injured over one hundred others.

"On the security front, we believe in a justice system that can respond to the breaking of law and order," said Danny Jordaan, chief organizer for the World Cup, in December. "The government is giving us strong backing with regards to security measures and we will have a safe and secure World Cup tournament. The government is hiring an additional 55,000 police officers, boosting the force by 15 percent. I am satisfied fans, teams, and the public will be safe during the 2010 World Cup finals."

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While the world may emerge from the tournament viewing South Africa as a safe and spectacular destination, the alternate risk is that crime or terror could leave people believing that the nation is in fact an unsafe place to visit.

"That's the concern," Baade said. "A city can be a surprise either positively or negatively and any host city really runs the risk of turning people off rather than turning them on…The likelihood of some kind of terrorist activity increases as a result of hosting an event."

It is all part of the risks in playing host to the rest of the world. With the United States pushing to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, some Americans might want to pay close attention to South Africa's successes or failures later this year.

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"At the very least I think U.S. officials need to be cautious and they need to think about what it's going to provide economically," said Baade.

But Lee-Anne Bac at Grant Thornton contends that South Africa will eventually reap big benefits from this summer's tournament, noting that the Rainbow Nation already experienced a huge financial boost after hosting the Rugby World Cup in 1995.

"That event on a smaller scale did astronomical things for our tourism industry," she pointed out.

In 1994 – a year before the tournament – the nation was visited by 3.7 million foreign tourists. Two years later 4.9 million foreigners flocked to the country, with part of that uptick undoubtedly due to the 1994 election of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid.

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Legacy Worth More Than Financial Gain?

Bac believes the financial fruits of this year's World Cup can already be seen in South Africa.

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