Recent Confederations Cup shows challenges plentiful before South Africa stages first World Cup in 11 months.

In less than a year’s time, the real show begins for South Africa.

The recent Confederations Cup was but a dress rehearsal for the biggest show on earth, football’s World Cup.

The exhibition tournament is usually played a year before the World Cup but this time around, it took on greater significance.

The selection of South Africa as the site of the 2010 World Cup caused great consternation throughout the football world. Aside from the obvious concerns about whether the country would be organized enough and financially viable enough to prepare enough stadia for the tournament, there were concerns about the validity of the home nation from a footballing standpoint.

The most successful World Cups usually have the home nation making an impact and the Bafana, Bafana boys did little going into this tournament to offer any kind of hope that they would be competitive. That changed.

What hasn’t changed is the real concern that surrounded awarding the Cup to Africa for the first time involved as to what would happen off the pitch from travel to infrastructure to handling the estimated 500,000 tourists to crime and security.

Sepp Blatter, FIFA boss, wants more than anything for the tournament to be success. He was the man who pushed for the tournament to be staged in South Africa.

His endorsement of South Africa’s staging of the Confederations Cup was moderate. He gave the nation a 7.5 rating out of 10. While 75% may be good in a math test, it’s a mark that needs to go up when staging a World Cup. Most of those marks were earned by the football that was played — which was superb — and the hospitality.

Blatter was also pleased with the security. South Africa has been under the microscope as one of the most crime-infested countries in the world.

There were 39 reports of criminal acts, most of them petty thefts. The Egyptian and Brazilian teams had money and items stolen from their hotels although news reports indicated the Egyptian’s had consorted with women of the night which led to the thefts, a report Egypt denied.

The regular crime statistics are startling. South Africa averages 50 murders a day and in 2007-08 there were officially 36,190 rapes, 14,201 carjackings and those are just the reported crimes.

The official word is the same as you’d get when you travel to any major city — be careful where you go, travel in numbers and don’t do anything that would put you in harm’s way.

The truth is though there has never been this level of concern for personal security in any other World Cup tournament.

The government plans on spending 1.3 billion rand ($200 million Cdn) for increased security, including an additional 41,000 specially deployed officers.

How good that security will be and what will happen away from the stadium is another question.

Six of the cities where games will be held — Polokwane, Pretoria, Nelspruit, Rustenburg, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein — are in the central or northern part of South Africa, the highest crime areas of the country.

“So I am satisfied with the way the competition went but there are still challenges which will have to be dealt with in terms of transport and accommodation,” Blatter said.

With a little less than a year left before the tournament begins, moving fans to and from sites remains difficult and reports indicate more than 15,000 hotel rooms are still needed.

Hotel groups are either upgrading or building new hotels with as many as 15 new hotels scheduled to open in June of 2010. That’s 10 days before the start of the tournament. Even the most optimistic organizer will find it hard to believe that all the projects will be finished on time.

Traffic, airport security and access to stadium through a park-and-ride program was from all reports a shambles. Park and ride allows people to park in a specific area and then shuttles take them to the stadium. There is no well designed mass transit system although a modern, rapid rail and bus system between some centres is expected to be ready, mostly out of Johannesburg.

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke wasn’t as kind as his boss.

“Transportation is an issue, accommodation is an issue,” he said. “These are things that have to be done. Yes, the park and ride does not work, yes, the media shuttle system has not worked. Yes, the signage has not worked. It was difficult to come in and out of the stadium.”

As for stadium preparedness, nine of the 10 stadiums should be ready by October, about eight months before the tournament begins. Valcke believes all the problems will be worked out in 11 months.

Despite the shortcomings, the trial run with the Confederations Cup proved better than expected.

DATED: 5th July 2009