Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SA's 2010 World Cup Tops Google's Zeitgeist

As many optimists predicted, the single biggest successful world event this year by far turned out to be our 2010 FIFA World Cup, held on the African continent for the first time in history. This largest single-sport event in the world was a boon to SA's introduction on the world stage, kind of like SA's coming out party, after centuries of a dark, tumultuous and shameful history.

Like a doctor taking the pulse of a patient to gauge the state of one's current condition, Google Zeitgeist's data visualization ( provides us with candid insight into what our world is really thinking by cutting through the media hype generated by pollsters and media conglomerates with a multitude of political and corporate agendas. As they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words", and the power of Google's Zeitgeist is that is does exactly that through a graphic showing us how the world searched during the entire year. The top events that rose to the surface after aggregating billions of searches, turned out to be: "world cup" (South Africa), "olympics" (Canada), "haiti earthquake" (Haiti), "oil spill" (US Gulf of Mexico) and "ash cloud" (Iceland).

The graphic below (click to expand) is a snapshot of the summarized timeline of three recent world events that generated HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS of searches through the year: "world Cup" (green), "olympics" (blue) and "oil spill" (yellow) and the green, blue and yellow dots indicates where these events took place.

Two things become glaringly apparent after viewing the world through the lens of Google searches. The first is the disconnect between what we see in the mainstream news media and what is really important to billions of people around the world on a daily basis. This disconnect is not surprising given that the majority of the world media are really owned by a corporate giants with hidden agendas that want to influence mass thinking. This internet has emerged as a bulwark against the total dominance of governments and media conglomerates of communication and media i.e. a true democratization of these communication channels for the first time in human history. The second, is the sheer scale of the 2010 World Cup, comparable the earthquake in Haiti, dwarfed the other events, and showed the importance of soccer a true world sport embraced by billions across cultures, geography, age, gender etc. The simplicity of the sport accounts for its scalability i.e. the same game that is played on some dusty field in some rural village can also be played in a state-of-the-art modern stadium viewed by billions across the world.

From another angle however, our South African perspective, there are many long term benefits for successfully hosting such an event.
1. Gaining the world's confidence of the execution ability of SA to host world events in spite of the naysayers in our own media that tried to sabotage the event with fabrications and whipping up hysteria about violence, xenophobia, vuvuzelas and whatnot. In spite of media negativity that contributed to a significant drop in attendance based on initial attendance estimates, it was nevertheless one of the safest and most successful sporting events ever!
2. The development of our infrastructure across the board. Heck, we're the first country in Africa to have Google Streetview - a testament to our openness and willingness to embrace technological progress. The short term thinkers, aka the naysayers, that complain of the billions spent on stadiums are unable to see the larger implications of these investments being leveraged to host other world events, like Durban's bid for the 2020 Olympics to attract more tourism, or being put to other creative uses.
3. An opportunity to market SA as a premier tourist destination. Just the long term benefits of this marketing has many positive implications for future tourism, business and cultural exchanges. The world had an opportunity to experience the graciousness of the South African people.
4. Using sport to rebuild of the fabric of our own polarized South African community. Many white rugby fans gained exposure to soccer for the first time in their lives! Even during Mandela's incarceration on Robben Island, we saw his love of the game and got a glimpse of how soccer indirectly influenced the course of our liberation from apartheid. Also, South African soccer fans felt a kindred spirit with international fans, many for the first time - an eye-opening experience for many in a country isolated for centuries from the international visitors.

We seized the golden opportunity afforded by the 2010 Fifa World Cup as another way to overcome our tragic physiological scars and regain our self-confidence. This self-confidence to realize that, as a country blessed with natural beauty, abundance and diversity, our trajectory towards societal transformation and progress is unstoppable. Its going to be a great ride!


  1. The World cup cost South Africans a mint. Most of the "visitors" will never come here again - they came to see the football. The cost of the massive amount of sporting infrastructure will be paid for by us, in increased taxes, exhorbitant tolls and reduction of much needed services, like low cost housing, new power stations and neglected and aging municipal infrastructure.
    All for a little bit of bling. It makes no economical sense whatsoever.

  2. And today it was said the we will not be bidding on the 2020 olympics. The governing party will be using their meagre funds to upgrade service delivery (unless they spend it all on some more personal bling, like new mansions, million rand vehicles and exhorbitant overseas "fact finding" missions).

  3. Oops. Big banana peel.
    Looks like we bribed our way and cheated Morocco out of hosting, and our glorious leaders are now exposed to the world for what they truly are. A bunch of skelms.
    Zeitgeist needs an update!!!!