Michael Church in South Africa

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 July, 2010, 12:00am

In a small barber's shop at the quieter end of Cape Town's Long Street, away from the backpacker lodges and the run-down, balconied restaurants that lure so many, Manny Fernandez sharpens his razor with a familiar back and forward motion.With nearly half a century of experience living in the Mother City, tending to the needs of locals and visitors alike, he has seen innumerable comings and goings since his arrival in South Africa from his native Portugal in 1962. But none has had such a profound effect as what has been going on in the past four weeks.

'The World Cup has allowed so many people to come to South Africa and see that it's not as bad as everyone thinks,' says Manny, his own hair thinned to the point of virtual extinction. 'It has allowed the world to see the real South Africa. I have had so many people in my shop telling me how impressed they have been with Cape Town. So many of them plan to go home and bring their wives and families here on holiday. It has been great for the city and for the country.

'I couldn't believe the things that were being written about South Africa before the World Cup; where did this all come from? Was it written by people who had never been here? It's so good that people have seen what this country is really like.'

The long-term legacy could well be a sustained influx of foreign visitors, with the World Cup creating a tourist boom that continues far beyond the end of the tournament tomorrow. There can be no denying the nation continues to have problems that run deeper than those addressed by hosting a major sporting event, but it is also far from the seething, crime-ridden cesspit often depicted in the international media.

Rather, it is a diverse, rich, and vibrant nation; the contrasts that abound from the safari lands of the veld to the clashing currents of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans make it one of the world's most fascinating destinations.

Fifa's decision to hold the World Cup in South Africa has been vindicated, not because of the football on show or the newly built infrastructure, but by the warmth of the welcome extended by the people. It is that, more than anything else, which has allowed blind eyes to be turned to the tournament's failings.

Now, as the 2010 edition winds down, attention begins to turn to Brazil and their hosting plans for the next chapter in 2014. The issues facing the Brazilians echo those which were seen as having the potential to hamper South Africa four years ago as the World Cup in Germany was drawing to a close. Questions now - as then - are being asked about infrastructure projects and concerns raised about safety and security.

Tales abound of carjackings and poverty-fuelled crime, much of which emanate from the very same favelas that have produced some of the game's greatest players. Such is the contradiction that is Brazil. These stories of impending doom, however, are all part of the dance that begins in the build-up to any major sporting event. The media thrives on tales of crime, unfinished venues and incomplete roads.

It was the same in the lead up to the 2002 finals, when questions were asked of South Korea's readiness - and worthiness - compared to co-hosts Japan. German efficiency denied journalists similar tales in the years before 2006. The majority of Olympic venues have, at one time or another, suffered similar inquiries.

And yet, South Africa should act not only as an example to the Brazilians, but also to other less developed nations - spirit, optimism and determination can take a country a long way when it comes to playing host to the world. Of course, South Africa 2010 has been far from perfect. Transportation has been among the primary issues, with the latest shambolic episode coming to a head before the second semi-final in Durban, when planeloads of fans were unable to land in time to watch Spain's win over Germany.

For all Fifa's promises to investigate, it seems the decision to prioritise private aircraft carrying high-profile visitors and celebrities - believed to include Spain's King Juan Carlos, South African President Jacob Zuma, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and socialite Paris Hilton - had a knock-on effect for regular fans. That, perhaps, has been one of the major negatives of South Africa 2010 - that not enough of the less well-off have had the opportunity to be fully involved.

Tickets have been far beyond the financial reach of many and, while Fifa has laid on its Fan Fests to enable supporters - both international and local alike - to watch the games together, it's been a long way from being all-inclusive. And that is because attending the World Cup is a middle class endeavour - no matter that the game's roots still remain within the poor and the working classes - and that is one thing that won't change in Brazil in four years' time.