South Africa's hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup saw a large number of public demonstrations, strikes and other forms of civic campaigning. World Cup activism was both preceded and followed by extensive and intensifying public unrest and industrial action that in the period before the tournament, threatened to derail the event. This paper assesses the motivations, forms and implications of the activism during South Africa's staging of the FIFA finals and interprets them against the larger context of shifting state-society relations in the country. There are two purposes to the analysis. First, to explore the underlying internal social forces that gave shape to the protests at the time, and the possible influence of the exogenous politics of mega-event social mobilization. Second, the implications and outcomes of these dynamics for longer term socio-political processes in the country are considered. The activism displayed many of the features of the politics of contestation of sport mega-events today. Importantly, however, the activism stemmed from a particular systemic dynamic and reflected changing relations in the post-apartheid political community. Therefore, while the World Cup was used as a strategic opportunity by many advocacy groups, it was one that rather fleetingly and ambivalently presented an additional platform to such groups in an otherwise on-going set of political battles. Rather than a strong case study of sport's transformative capacity, the civic campaigning during South Africa's World Cup demonstrates the way a sport mega-event can be used as a strategic entry point by civil society groups in their engagement with the state, although this can occur with greater or lesser success.