2010 has become the focus of SA’s scepticism about government’s failures. But Fifa is confident that the event will be a success, even though many of the stadium and transport projects are pushing their deadlines.

June 11, 2010 is less than 680 days away. And the closer the opening day of the soccer World Cup gets, the more nervous everyone is that SA will botch the world’s foremost sporting event and have it taken away by Fifa, soccer’s global governing body.

Whenever Fifa president Sepp Blatter mentions a Plan B for 2010, South Africans’ inherent cynicism comes to the fore and we are convinced the country will be the first in history to lose the rights to host the event. (In fact Colombia lost the 1986 World Cup rights, four years before the event).

Let’s put the demons to rest, for now. “There is no reason to believe that we will have to re-evaluate the situation of the 2010 World Cup due to any organisational issues… We are convinced that the World Cup will take place in SA,” Blatter says in an interview with the FM this week. (See Q&A: “Are we still on track as host?”).

Dan Moyo, director-general of government’s 2010 unit, says the country’s 24 projects are between “40% and 60% complete”, in line with Fifa’s time-frames.

Fifa has been more involved in the preparations for the World Cup in SA than in previous events. Fifa’s 18 permanent staff in SA meet daily with the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and every two months an official Fifa inspection team visits the host cities.

Fifa’s hands-on involvement in SA is a shift from its practice of running the World Cup like a franchise, where it owns the copyright and the host country takes the risk of running the event. It has also set up a company – Fifa World Cup SA – to manage its local activities. In 2006 in Germany, it set up only a TV and marketing subsidiary.

With 86% of its revenue coming from a single event that is staged every four years, it is understandable that Fifa leaves nothing to chance when it comes to the World Cup.

It seems to be paying off. The federation’s 2007- 2010 revenue budget is US$3,2bn, and it has already raised $3,1bn through the sale of sponsorship and broadcasting rights – double the $1,8bn revenue it made in Germany. (See story “Time to up our game”).

Despite Fifa’s endorsement, insiders say SA is pushing the deadlines on many fronts and can ill afford to be late on any of the key projects.

The stadiums, in particular, are under the spotlight after Port Elizabeth was recently dropped as a venue for the 2009 Confederations Cup, a Fifa-required trial run for the World Cup, because it missed numerous deadlines.

LOC CEO Danny Jordaan says Frankfurt was finished to close to the deadline and the roof leaked on fans during the 2005 Confed Cup in Germany. “But SA cannot afford a mishap like that,” he tells the FM, pointing out that such a flaw will be “magnified and held up as evidence of our lack of preparedness”.

Government’s mid term report, published earlier this year, warned that PE would battle to meet the December 2008 deadline, and also doubted Cape Town’s readiness. Since then, though, most of the concerns around the R3,85bn Green Point stadium appear to have been addressed.

The 10 stadiums – five new ones and five remodelled ones – have overshot their combined budgets by R3,2bn and will now cost a total of R11bn, a trend attributed mostly to surging construction costs. (Click on graphic at right or CLICK HERE.)

The cost overrun is what Moyo describes as his “biggest headache”, though most cities are confident they can plug the gap.

Nketo Matima, 2010 director for Rustenburg, expects the province to stump up for the city’s R40m funding shortfall for the R330m revamp of the Royal Bafokeng stadium. Funding thus far has come mostly from the platinum boom town itself and its benefactor, the Royal Bafokeng authority.

Polokwane needs to find an additional R400m, but the city’s Ndavhe Ramakuela warns about “the major risk of the municipality’s inability to fund the stadium budget overrun on its own”.

Gerrie Prinsloo, professor at the faculty of transport, logistics & supply chain management at the University of Johannesburg, expects government to be able to fund the stadium overruns.

Prinsloo says the biggest threats facing the building programme are not costs but strikes and supply disruptions.

Labour disputes have already cost Green Point a week’s work, while the stadiums in Nelspruit, Polokwane and Durban have faced even longer strikes.

To avoid further disruptions, Moyo says the LOC has put in place labour forums under the auspices of the commission for conciliation, mediation & arbitration to deal with disputes speedily.

Most observers believe that the far bigger challenge confronting SA is to ensure that the national and municipal transport system is up to scratch come 2010. On its own, a less than adequate transport network will not scupper the World Cup but would leave a bitter taste among the estimated 300 000 overseas visitors expected for the event.

And, says Prinsloo, transport is arguably the single biggest beneficiary of the World Cup, giving fresh impetus to and focus on infrastructure upgrades and an opportunity to permanently change the way South Africans travel.

Yet the process of improving rail, road and air transport infrastructure and, more crucially, co-ordinating their functions, also presents the biggest challenge to government and organisers.

The plan is centred on a R13,6bn public transport infrastructure upgrade, covering key roads in host cities and those linking airports to city centres.

On top of that is a national transport plan that includes an R18bn expansion plan by Metrorail, the Airports Company SA’s (Acsa) R20bn upgrade and the SA National Roads Agency’s R70bn programme. (Click on graphic at right or CLICK HERE.)

SA is well behind the timetable set by government, which scheduled December 2008 as the deadline for most of the transport infrastructure to be completed; 2009 was then to be used for “dry runs”.

Most parts of the transport plan, from O R Tambo airport’s refurbishment to long distance, inter-city travel coaches, will now only come on stream late next year or early 2010.

Skhumbuzo Macozoma, the LOC’s chief officer for transport and logistics, acknowledges the risk, but is also confident that the plan will be ready in time.

Not everybody shares his optimism, particularly since transport in host cities – in the absence of underground subways common in most Western cities – will rely on SA’s public transport network of buses and rail.

The most delicately balanced element is bus travel, based on the ubiquitous bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

Six cities – Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein and Polokwane – are adapting the system, popularised in South American cities such as Bogota, Colombia.

It relies on clearing lanes in key roads for buses only and building dozens of new bus stations, and will depend on cities purchasing thousands of new buses in time for the World Cup.

Johannesburg is the furthest ahead, ready to order 1 200 buses at a cost of R2bn and far advanced in establishing trunk roads. The city says the first phase covers 122 km of bus routes and 150 stations to be ready by 2010.

Cape Town appears to be next in line to implement the system, with plans for a 38 km route between the airport and city centre, as well as a further 20 km to cover the southern suburbs by 2010.

Richard Kingma, the city’s director of transport, says dedicated bus lanes on the N2 are part of the plan, which will cost R1,8bn.

Tshwane, on the other hand, is playing catch-up. Kerneels Olivier, manager of transport & planning, says the BRT project has been two years in planning but has suffered because of difficulties in sourcing expertise and skills. Olivier says the city is now engaged in a “recovery plan” with treasury and the province.

The city’s BRT system will cover 67 km, with a key line running from Mabopane to the Pretoria CBD and a second line, to be prioritised for 2010, to run from the CBD via the stadium to Mamelodi. Costs for the routes and 240 buses are estimated at R1,9bn.

Durban manager Michael Sutcliffe says the city does not have a BRT project but will use a mix of rail, bus and an “inner-city circulatory” system based on taxis.

Other cities are only in the design phase, with Polokwane furthest behind, despite a R243m budget for transport.

Macozoma says an order for 1 400 buses has gone out. Of those, 450 will be allocated to Match, Fifa’s accommodation and ticketing company, while 200 buses will go to the LOC for sponsors’ guests and teams. The balance will be used for inter-city travel.

Another big hurdle is getting buy-in from taxi owners, which Macozoma confidently predicts will happen by next year. Johannesburg has signed memorandums of understanding with taxi organisations, but Cape Town and Tshwane are only in “discu ssions” with the notoriously volatile taxi bodies.

Metrorail’s plans are equally ambitious. They involve refurbishing 2 000 of 4 600 coaches and ensuring 96% availability by 2010. The company also plans to upgrade stations such as Doornfontein, near Ellis Park stadium, and open new lines to Soccer City, among others.

Macozoma says rail will be crucial in ferrying local and foreign fans to the stadiums; but Metrorail will have to launch a PR campaign to convince fans that it is safe to travel on its trains.

The Gautrain’s role by 2010 will be limited to getting overseas visitors from O R Tambo airport to Sandton. The links between Sandton and the Johannesburg and Pretoria CBDs will be completed only after the World Cup.

At least Acsa should be ready by 2010 with most of the refurbishment at O R Tambo and Cape Town International set for completion a few months ahead of the opening match.

The danger in missing key deadlines is that once the momentum of the World Cup is gone, projects could be quietly abandoned. Cities will be left with road markings that bear no relevance to traffic, or gleaming new buses in a depot unused for fear of being damaged by angry taxi operators.

World Cups are associated with fans drinking beer and having fun in open-area restaurants and pubs. SA does not really have such a culture but the host cities are planning to create more than 200 public sites, including fan parks, to cater for fans.

Cape Town is positioning itself as the party capital with the possibility of the North Sea Jazz Festival taking place at the same time as the tournament.

Johannesburg is planning to set up a fan park at the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown and two public viewing sites at Innesfree Park in Sandton and Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown.

These will not be subjected to the strict Fifa marketing rules, presenting opportunities for non-Fifa associates like SABMiller and other brands.

The smaller host cities, such as Polokwane, Rustenburg and Nelspruit, will struggle to match the bigger cities’ entertainment value but will have to play on their surrounding game reserves.

PUBLICATION: Financial Mail
AUTHOR: Thebe Mabanga with contributions from Larry Claasen and Matebello Motloung
DATED: 8th August 2008