As much as the 2010 World Cup was sold as an unequivocal social and economic boon to the South African people and the continent as a whole, the Cup’s actual legacy in South Africa may prove to be much more complicated. The undoubtedly grand achievement of pulling off the world’s biggest sporting event—the infrastructure improvements, the incredible amounts of money spent and deadlines met—raises unavoidable questions as to why the same effort and resources haven’t been put into easing the nation’s painful economic disparities.

Take the residents of Soweto, for instance, whose lives of poverty and disenfranchisement now play out in the shadow of the $300 million Calabash Stadium. “The shame of that contrast is overwhelming,” said one South African journalist. “Some dynamism should come out of that shame.”

Oddly, racial tensions may increase after the final match on July 11. Visitors from around the globe have been welcomed with genuine warmth by South Africans these last weeks, but reports have already started circulating in some South African news outlets that xenophobic pogroms, like those that killed sixty-two people in 2008, may occur once they leave. “The World Cup has just calmed it down a bit because we have to show our best face to the world and people are watching football rather than attacking their Malawian neighbour,” said Marius Roodt, a researcher with the South African Institute of Race Relations, as reported by Zimbabwe’s The Standard.

“Xenophobia is a fact in South Africa. You go to the townships, people will be saying, ‘No, these people are taking our jobs’…It is still bubbling and I don’t think the government is controlling it,” said Sowetan editor Horatio Motjuwadi about the situation. “Someone needs to come up with an ingenious plan to bring people together.”

What role the press will play in that plan—watchdog, cheerleader, conscientious participant—remains to be seen.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Maura R. O'Connor is a freelance foreign correspondent. This year she was awarded a Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellowship and will be reporting on American foreign aid from Haiti, Afghanistan, and Africa.