As the countdown to the 2010 World Cup kickoff hits the one-year mark on Thursday, South Africa is hoping that a curtain-raiser this month will banish any lingering doubts over its ability to be the perfect host.

Ke Nako (‘it’s time’ in Sotho), Celebrate Africa’s Humanity, is the official slogan of the World Cup.

For World Cup organizers FIFA the time has come to give football fans a little taste of what they can expect at the first Cup to be held on the African continent June 11-July 11, 2010.

The eight-country Confederations Cup, held every four years in the World Cup host nation a year before the bigger event, serves that purpose.

On Sunday, the so-called Championship of Champions starts in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park with a African-themed opening ceremony, followed by the opening game between South Africa and Iraq.

Brazil, the United States, Italy, Spain, Egypt and New Zealand are the other competitors in the two-week tournament, being held in four of 10 World Cup stadia.

Ellis Park is an apt venue for the opening of this World Cup dress rehearsal as it was the site of South Africa’s greatest sporting moment – where the Springboks defeated New Zealand in the final of the Rugby World Cup a year into democracy in 1995.

Many South Africans are hoping that the World Cup will deepen the process of post-apartheid reconciliation that kicked into high gear during the rugby cup.

‘During that (rugby) World Cup we’ve seen the stadium having lots of black and white people hugging each other,’ Phil Masinga recalls fondly. ‘That’s what sport can do for individuals.’

Masinga, a former South African football international and Leeds United striker, who scored the goal that took Bafana Bafana to its first World Cup in France in 1998, also sees 2010 as a chance to showcase African football.

‘It’s time to see what people who didn’t have opportunities that the First World had (in football) can do,’ he says.

But the ‘First World’ will likely be more fixated on how South Africa handles logistical issues, such as security.

The local organizing committee (LOC) has persistently downplayed the risk of South Africa’s high crime levels for the World Cup, pointing to the country’s successful hosting of several international tournaments as proof it has a handle on event security.

The LOC cites India’s choice of South Africa, over England, to host cricket’s Indian Premier League in April and May as proof of international confidence in the country’s security nous.

For the Confed Cup, more than 5,000 policemen and 3,000 private security personnel have been deployed to protect players, officials and fans.

The sluggish start to ticket sales had initially sparked fears there wouldn’t be many fans to protect, but around 70 per cent of the tickets have now been sold – a respectable score for the Confed Cup.

On the transport front, however, South Africa is still shooting outside the ball park after failing to get new bus systems up and running in time for the tournament.

Four cities are taking advantage of the World Cup to introduce new bus rapid transit (BRT) systems as a safer alternative to the notoriously dangerous minibus taxis that currently transport the masses.

But the taxi owners, threatening violence, have put the brakes on the bigger buses, which are now slated to begin service in September, instead of June.

Despite the setback, Silas Dlamini, one of around 4,000 people Confederations Cup volunteers, is confident South Africa will have its ducks in a row by kickoff in the World Cup on June 11, 2010.

‘We have our issues in terms of race and so on but when South Africans are called upon to unity they’re the best in the world,’ Dlamini, the owner of a marketing firm and ardent football fan, says.

‘It (the World Cup) will show we are world class. We’ll be among the Germanies of the world.’

AUTHOR: Clare Byrne
DATED: 9th June 2009