As you know, the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be held in South Africa. Given the political sensitivity surrounding global sporting events these days, FIFA had to be worried about the recent behavior of South African president Thabo Mbeki. To the puzzlement of many, Mbeki refused to use his substantial influence on the continent to put pressure on Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. (Mugabe, in the midst of a hotly fought presidential run-off, has used his goon squads to intimidate supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.)
However, it appears that Mbeki, whether out of political sensitivity or a sense of compunction, is going to reject the results of the presidential run-off. This is good news for FIFA.
If Mbeki had failed to speak out against Mugabe’s thuggish and undemocratic tactics, then South Africa would have been held up for ridicule. As a consequence, the 2010 World Cup would’ve been marred by protests, particularly if things in Zimbabwe worsened under Mugabe’s illegitimate rule (a safe assumption). Certainly it wouldn’t have risen to the level of unrest we’ll see in Beijing, but even spare fractions of that would’ve drawn international attention to South Africa and led to unwelcome scrutiny of FIFA’s choice in venues. Fortunately for world soccer and much more fortunately for the innocents in Zimbabwe, Mbeki appears poised to meet his obligations, however belatedly.