With less than 1 000 days to go before the start of the 2010 World Cup, soccer governing body Fifa, the South African local organising committee, national government and the eThekwini Municipality expressed confidence that everything was in order and preparations were on track for the world’s most watched sporting event.

The Mercury got the low-down on where Durban stands with some of the bigger 2010-related projects.

We spoke to eThekwini Municipal Manager Michael Sutcliffe, Head of Strategic Projects Julie-May Ellingson and former England and South Africa goalkeeper Gary Bailey about Durban’s preparedness for the tournament:

‘on average, we are still on track’

Mabhida Stadium:

Despite being faced with a few setbacks, construction of the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban has been going ahead full steam.

Ellingson described the stadium as “the most complex and largest infrastructure project the city has ever undertaken”, but was convinced that it is “well on track” for completion in October 2009.

However, it was not without its challenges.

“Given the scale of construction, some areas are well ahead and others may be a little behind. But on average, we are still on track,” she said.

According to her, more money is being spent monthly on the Durban stadium than on any other stadium in the country.

“Our greatest challenge is bringing particularly the national sphere of government up to speed on what these challenges are and how best they can be addressed given that most have a price tag to them,” she added.

During 1 000-day celebrations just over a week ago, the committee expressed its satisfaction with the progress of all the host stadiums.

Public transport:

According to Bailey, this is the one area where South Africa cannot compete with Germany, which hosted the previous World Cup.

There, trains, tubes and buses are on time to the minute, and there is a more than adequate public transport system in place across the country.

South Africa is different. Not only are taxis notoriously erratic, buses and trains are seldom on schedule – and South Africa is about 2 400 buses short.

However, an ever-positive Bailey said this provided another positive.

There could be African dancing, music and performing at the public transport terminals. If done well, this could reduce people’s tensions if the transport was running late.

The committee said that millions were being spent on road and rail infrastructure, which is expected to last long after the World Cup.

In Durban, Ellingson said initiatives like the intelligent transport system signboards – which would tell motorists what traffic conditions were like on a particular stretch of road – would assist in public and private transport.

Already some signboards were in place, including on the N2 near the Durban International Airport.

Ellingson added that plans in the Warwick Junction area would start taking shape soon and that plans to expand the people mover beyond its current level would be finalised.

The King Shaka International Airport at La Mercy got the environmental impact assessment nod a few weeks ago and, about 10 days ago, a sod-turning ceremony was held to officially open the site.

At the ceremony, national Transport Minister Jeff Radebe said everything was in order for the airport to be completed well in time for the World Cup, despite the project being 70-odd days behind schedule.

Power, roads, water:

A massive R2,9-billion worth of projects have been put in place by the eThekwini Municipality, the vast majority of which will be in place before the World Cup.

Electricity infrastructure will get about R700-million of this money. A large portion of this allocation is to go to the building of new substations, which are expected to reduce the load on the municipality’s ageing electricity grid.

New transformers are also to be bought, new cables are to be laid and various other upgrades will be put in place.

Roads will also be upgraded, as will pavements, stormwater drains and other infrastructure.

Electricity is perceived as one of South Africa’s greatest challenges, but Sutcliffe said a recent National Energy Regulator of South Africa report “singled out” Durban’s electricity programmes for keeping maintenance and renewal of the overall system on track.

Fifa has also demanded that each of the stadiums be on their own grid, so even if there are power cuts in the host city, the stadium will not be affected. Back-up generators will also be in place at all stadiums.

Accommodation:

Bailey said this was one of the biggest concerns as, in Gauteng alone, there were 30 000 beds too few for the expected amount of visitors.

This opened up opportunities for people to rent out rooms or homes to travellers. This would be an opportunity to make extra cash and would assist in reducing the accommodation shortage, he said.

He added that more and more people were expanding existing or creating new bed and breakfasts, but warned that care needed to be taken to ensure that the lives of these facilities went well beyond the World Cup – if they did not, people could lose a lot of money.

Ellingson said accommodation was high on the municipality’s agenda.

“More hotels are being built and renovated in our city than at any other time in our history. Our strategy to grow the hotel sector has worked very well and new product ranges are being established in Durban before anywhere else,” she said.

Bailey said passionate soccer fans, like those who would travel to the tournament, would be prepared to travel up to two or three hours for matches, which gave non-host cities the chance to gain economically during the four-week event.

Fan parks:

First introduced in Korea and Japan during the 2002 World Cup, the success of fan parks rocketed in Germany and they are expected to be a crucial element of South Africa’s hosting programme.

The biggest benefit of the fan parks is that they allow people who cannot get tickets to share in a similar atmosphere.

Fifa has yet to give the exact rules and regulations for these parks – except that they must be free to enter – but plans are already in place for Durban’s biggest park.

Ellingson said: “We have completed assessments for our main fan park, which will extend around Umgeni River and down to the beach across the Blue Lagoon.

“We are awaiting the formal guidelines from Fifa, but we do have an idea of what we would like to do.”

She added that there were discussions under way between the committee and Fifa to finalise the fan festivals and public viewing areas.

PUBLICATION: Independent Online
AUTHOR: Matthew Savides
DATED: 8th October 2007