This essay explores the political economy of the 2010 World Cup as it is defined by the major commercial, corporate and political forces that have come to be prevalent in the organization of the FIFA finals. It examines the interchange between international and domestic processes of sport corporatization, commercialization and general trends of sport politics, and the resultant current features of tournament preparation. It contends that the wider political economy of global sport will exercise a modulating and a potentially restraining influence on many of the objectives set by South African authorities. Pre‐event preparation is marked by the involvement of large commercial actors that hold proprietorship over the central – and most lucrative – aspects of the tournament, such as its branding, promotion and mediatisation, and the dissemination of tickets. Driven in the main by neomercantilist impulses, and the ambitions of a global class for whom the commercial stakes are very high, the 2010 World Cup is highly unlikely to yield the gains – for South African football and society – that are popularly expected from it.