Preparations for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa are generally ahead of schedule, says Edward Griffiths, consultant to the Organising Committee. But, he warns, “accommodation and transport are going to be tight”.

401 days to kickoff, and everything’s on track. That’s the reassurance received by members of the South African Business Club at Deloitte last Wednesday, listening to Edward Griffiths discuss the challenges and opportunities around World Cup 2010.

Griffiths, who is also CEO of Saracens Rugby Club, painted a positive picture of South Africa’s readiness to host one of the world’s largest sporting events. Focusing in particular on the construction of the R14-billion stadiums being built or renovated to host World Cup matches, Griffiths pointed out that all stadium construction is ahead of schedule – with the exception of Cape Town’s new Greenpoint Stadium, which has fallen behind deadline by a mere two weeks.

The showpiece stadium of the World Cup will be Soccer City, a 94 000-seater venue located between Johannesburg and Soweto designed in the shape of an African calabash.

Design plans for Durban’s new stadium are similarly impressive: a giant archway will span the diameter of the enclosure, over which people will be able to walk. 65% of all Cape Town’s hotels are within walking distance of the city’s new stadium at Greenpoint.

Griffiths did not gloss over the more controversial aspects of the stadium construction, however. In order to create Cape Town’s new venue, the country’s oldest golf-course was destroyed. The fancy archway over Durban stadium represents the triumph of aesthetics over functionality: it will cast a shadow over the pitch which may provide troublesome effects of the light for the players. Perhaps most problematic is the new stadium being built in Mpumalanga. Mbombela Stadium, in Nelspruit, will seat 46-000 fans at a cost of R1 billion – in a province which doesn’t have a premier league football team.

Transport and accommodation bring special problems of their own. Of the estimated 450 000 expected visitors, hotels will host approximately 56 000. That leaves almost 400 000 visitors needing rooms, notes Griffiths. Public transport links are being improved, with the completed Gautrain expected to play a major part, but getting 450 000 people from place to place will inevitably be tricky. Griffiths says the Organising Committee is relying on taxis coming to the rescue. “Taxis will be like the small boats at Dunkirk,” he said – “and about as dangerous”, came a quip from the audience.

The event emphasis, says Griffiths, will be on a “great party”, and a safe one.

“Will the World Cup stop crime in South Africa?” asked Griffiths. “No. But will crime stop the World Cup in South Africa? Equally, no.” The Organising Committee anticipates an “incident-free” World Cup; and to support the likelihood of this, Griffiths points to the Rugby and Cricket World Cups, both hosted safely.
Will it all be worth it? Unquestionably, says Griffiths. He suggests it’s the ultimate opportunity for South Africa to change perceptions of Africa as solely a continent ravaged by AIDS and famine. In fact, he thinks its potential to leave a lasting positive legacy for South Africa can’t be underestimated.

Wrapping up his address to the South African Business Club, Griffiths said: “It may be that historians will divide African history into the era before the 2010 World Cup, and the era after it.”

PUBLICATION: www.southafrican.co.u
AUTHOR: Rebecca Davis
DATED: 1st May 2009