By Victoria John
"White South Africans would like to see the country's hosting of the event fail," was the comment of Dr Essop Pahad, a member of the 2010 World Cup Organising Committee, in 2008.
"Whites don't even care that the Soccer World Cup is being staged in South Africa," he said at the Beijing Olympics.
But a study by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) prove that this view is a misconception. "White South Africans - like others - are engaged and care about the World Cup," the survey has revealed.
Pahad's comments provoked so much controversy that a group called the Afrikanerbond even went so far as to lodge a complaint of hate speech against the minister to the Human Rights Commission.
On a trip to Beijing to promote the World Cup, Pahad, who was then Minister in the Presidency of Thabo Mbeki, stated: "Even though they are a minority, there are still a lot of whites who don't support Bafana Bafana."
Although Pahad has since being removed from his position after Jacob Zuma's election, one of his tasks at the time was to ensure a successful soccer spectacle. But opposition parties lashed back at what the HSRC termed "a prominent government official undermining international confidence and, more importantly, efforts to promote national unity and social cohesion".
By analysing attitudes to the World Cup over the last three years, Udesh Pillay, Ben Roberts and Orli Bass of the HSRC confronted what they called "misconceptions" about South Africans' attitude to the World Cup.
The HSRC's study, which described Pahad's statements as a "rip in the weave of multi-cultural post-apartheid identity", found that in the past three years, at least 95 percent of white South Africans had consistently believed that the country would benefit from hosting the spectacle.
Facilitators of the survey, which involved 3 300 respondents, said: "Implicit in the notion of care are elements of concern, worry and even trouble but also pride and anticipation".
The survey revealed that 74 percent of South Africans perceive the top three benefits to emerge from hosting the World Cup would be economic growth, job creation and putting South Africa on the international map.
With regards to these benefits only about 25 percent of coloureds believed they would be lasting. Thirty-six percent of Indians and Asians and 37 percent of whites believed the effects would be long-term.
Blacks were the most optimistic with 50 percent of the respondents believing the effects would be long-standing.
White South Africans emerged as more sceptical about South Africa's readiness to host the World Cup than Indians and coloureds and significantly more so than blacks. But although whites are more sceptical "this does not mean they do not care about it", the survey found.
Eight out of 10 whites believed that sport was a unifying power. The HSRC said "all population groups hold similar sentiments that sport brings different groups and races inside SA closer together... when SA performs well at international sporting competitions with 88 percent of whites, 85 percent of Indians, 83 percent of coloureds and 80 percent of black respondents agreeing.
"These statistics suggest the issue is not one of race but one of performance. Fans are quick to desert under-performing teams. Support is not guaranteed, it is earned. When Bafana Bafana starts performing its support base will increase - across all population groups," said the HSRC.