What do giraffes, towering steel arches and giant African calabashes have in common with the 2010 Fifa World Cup?

They are all intriguing design elements of South Africa’s World Cup stadiums, rapidly taking shape in a mesh of steel, bricks and mortar.

Conceptualised by imaginative architects and now taking shape thanks to tens of thousands of construction workers, these are some of the elements that will make good on South Africa’s promise of a never-before-seen African Fifa World Cup.

A recent 10-day inspection tour of all 10 2010 Fifa World Cup stadiums by Fifa and Local Organising Committee experts provided even further evidence – if any was still needed – that South Africa is on course to delivering a memorable tournament, if the creative, eye-catching 2010 stadiums are anything to go by.

More than 20 000 workers are on site at the country’s stadiums, not only South African men – and hundreds of women – but a real “United Nations” drawn from around the world.

The progress at the six new stadiums under construction is impressive, especially at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.

Most of the construction work there has been completed and half of the seats at the 40 000-seater stadium have been installed already.

It’s thanks to a small group of 12 Chinese workers that the seats have been installed so quickly.

They are putting in about a thousand seats a day.

The group of six Bangladeshi riggers and crane operators are also earning kudos from their construction colleagues.

“I am learning so much from the guys from Bangladesh and China.

“The Bangladeshis are very good riggers and the Chinese are such hard-working guys.

“I am very proud to be part of the team working on this stadium. It’s a real honour,” said 27-year-old local rigger Thembinkosi Mahola.

Sticking with the UN feel at the stadium, there are plenty of German and Swiss accents to be heard, as well as the distinctive Scottish brogue of stadium foreman Norman McMurray.

“I helped build Celtic’s Parkhead stadium more than 30 years ago and it’s great to be working on a Fifa World Cup stadium in South Africa.

“Hosting the World Cup will be a fantastic achievement for this country and will bring so many cultures here,” said McMurray, who emigrated to South Africa from Glasgow 17 years ago.

And the potpourri of local and international workers is certainly doing wonders; the group of experts could inspect the detailed finishings on-site and were surprised by one fully kitted dressing room, complete with snazzy player lockers, and jacuzzis, complete with comfortable headrests.

And at the showpiece stadium, Soccer City in Soweto, the first pieces of cladding for the calabash, a bowl normally used for traditionally brewed beer, were being set up on the outside already.

The calabash shape, which will eventually envelop the stadium, is beginning to make its way around the perimeter of the stadium that will host the opening match and the final in 2010.

Horst R Schmidt, the vice-president of the local organising committee for the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany and now a key 2010 Fifa World Cup consultant, joined the inspection tour to Soccer City and was clearly impressed.

“My general impression is that this is one of the most exciting sites that I’ve ever seen in my sporting life,” the experienced administrator said.

But the prize for the most eye-catching venue goes to the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

Its breathtaking arch is starting to dominate the city’s skyline.

When finished, the arch will be 105m above the middle of the pitch.

Spectators will be able to get to the top of the arch by cable car from one side or by climbing hundreds of steps from the other for a stunning view of the semifinal venue below and of the Indian Ocean just a few kilometres beyond the stadium.

The Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit is in a region known for its wild beauty and animals, and it was decided that the stadium should reflect its surroundings.

To this end, the stadium has incorporated 16 giraffe-shaped columns prominently in its design, aiming to create a truly unique venue.

But in terms of majesty, Green Point Stadium in Cape Town – built on the slopes of Signal Hill with the imposing Table Mountain looking on – may just take the cake.

South Africa has promised a Fifa World Cup like no other.

And with calabashes, giant giraffes and cable cars, the stadiums will certainly be like no other.

PUBLICATION: Pretoria News (Page 4)
DATED: 16th October 2008