When, on May 15 2004, Fifa announced that it had chosen South Africa to host the 2010 football World Cup, there was dancing in the streets. Back then, it had just more than six years to get ready. Now it has less than 600 days.

The plan is that on June 11 2010, the first two of a month of matches will be played, at Soccer City in Johannesburg and at Green Point stadium in Cape Town. The final will be at Soccer City, a 94 700-seat venue undergoing a major upgrade – one of five existing stadiums being revamped, while the other five are being built from scratch.

An event on this scale is not just a matter of having stadiums ready. Spectators have to be able to move around among the nine cities hosting matches – in a country that is more than 1.2 million sq km in size; if you like, that is just less than 11 Bulgarias, close to five UKs, or about three-and-a-half Germanies, the country that most recently hosted the World Cup.

Apart from hotel accommodation and several other considerations, probably the biggest concern is that South Africa’s law enforcement authorities will be able to secure the event in a country that has a notorious reputation for violent crime.
Further, while South Africa’s banking and financial system is structured on a conservative basis and thus largely unaffected by the global financial crisis, there is concern that higher borrowing costs and a weakened local currency, the rand, may compound the already sharply increasing current account deficit, a deficit being run up in part to meet the infrastructure needs of the 2010 World Cup.

Track record
South Africa says that it has a track record of successfully hosting major international sports events, including the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the Women’s World Cup of Golf (2005-08), and the only street race in the A1 GP World Cup of Motorsport (2006). None of these, of course, is on the scale of the football World Cup.

The rugby event was played at nine stadiums, all pre-existing although most were upgraded, with capacities ranging from 16 000 to 62 000 (some, like Ellis Park and Loftus Versfeld, are among those undergoing upgrades of varying extents for 2010). Attendance at the Rugby World Cup was about 1.1 million, about a third of the figure that attended the 2006 football World Cup in Germany. The cricket event was played at 12 stadiums in South Africa, two in Zimbabwe and one in Kenya; attendance was about 600 000. Another set of comparisons, in terms of average attendance at a match: the cricket in 2006, 12 000; the rugby in 1995, 34 000; Germany’s football World Cup, 52 000.

Afro-pessimism
Much of South Africa’s marketing in securing the cup was on the theme of “Africa’s time has come”. However much it has accentuated the feel-good factor, emphasising post-apartheid South Africa’s newborn identity as the “Rainbow Nation” and the globally popular Nelson Mandela (the latter not a tactic always guaranteed to work; Cape Town was beaten by Athens in the bid for the 2004 Olympic Games, Mandela notwithstanding), the fact is that since the announcement that South Africa is to host the event, there has been a series of highly negative news stories, including about delays in construction, labour disputes started by workers involved in the 2010 projects, massive rolling power cuts in all major cities and probably most disturbingly of all, the 2008 anti-foreigner violence that led to several deaths. Given the enduring skepticism about Africa, none of this helped project an image of South Africa having things under control. Especially from European quarters, there is the factor of Afro-pessimism, in essence a form of racism.

To counter this, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and other key players have embarked on a charm offensive, including inviting journalists from Europe and elsewhere to see South Africa for themselves, frequent adverts for the South Africa 2010 World Cup on CNN and Sky and sending the official mascot, Zakumi, on a world tour.

South Africa’s Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) along with the country’s BuaNews agency and website services like MediaClubSouthAfrica.com are providing up-to-date texts and images about progress.

Politics
The run-up to the event has been, predictably, a political football. At national and local level, opposition parties have called into question some of the planning and spending. There have been municipal controversies, including an attempt in court to stop the demolition of the old Green Point stadium to make way for its 2010 successor.

Most of all, the protracted in-fighting in the ruling African National Congress that saw Jacob Zuma win the leadership and then bulldoze Thabo Mbeki out of the presidency to be replaced by “interim” president Kgalema Mothlante raised the question about whether the political upset would hamper progress on the 2010 project, especially given that some Mbeki allies were closely involved in the preparations. As the dust settled, it emerged that highly respected finance minister Trevor Manuel was staying on, while new faces came on to the LOC to replace some who had been there by virtue of cabinet and other posts that they had held while Mbeki was president. GCIS, announcing on October 13 the new personnel, said “We remain confident that South Africa will meet all the requirements set by Fifa.”

The government welcomed the findings of the Fifa/LOC team that had conducted a 10-day inspection tour of all 10 World Cup stadiums in the previous two weeks. The team had indicated that South Africa was well on course to meet the Fifa deadlines.

“Overall, we are happy with what we have seen in the facilities. Very encouraging progress has been made, in particular at the six new stadiums since the last visits. They will be amazing football jewels in 2010. The great engagement from the cities proves that we are on the right track,” Ron Del Mont, head of Fifa’s South Africa office, was quoted by GCIS as saying.

Progress
According to an SAInfo article on October 14, the team of inspectors from Fifa and the LOC had praised the general status of construction.
The experts from Fifa and the LOC represented various areas, ranging from stadium technical teams to security, competitions, hospitality, ticketing, media, marketing, TV and IT.

LOC acting chief compliance officer Derek Blanckensee was quoted by SAInfo as saying that it was heartening not only to see the tremendous construction progress, but also the level of planning in and around the stadiums.

“We examined in great detail the functional use of all the spaces and access routes of all the constituent groups involved in a Fifa World Cup, and there was a great correlation between what Fifa expected and what the cities’ various technical experts have provided,” he said.

Challenges
Some “challenges” were identified, however, particularly concerning the refurbishments in Pretoria and Bloemfontein, both venues for the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup, which kicks off in less than nine months.

The issues lay mainly in the interpretation of the Fifa infrastructural requirements, which have been addressed in the operational meetings with the cities. There is still much work to do, but the delegation is optimistic that the necessary solutions will be found and implemented in time to put on a world-class event next year.

The two other Fifa Confederations Cup venues, Ellis Park in Johannesburg and Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg, were well on track to meet Fifa requirements and deadlines.
Fifa consultant Horst Schmidt, a former organiser of the 1974 and 2006 World Cups and part of the inspection party in Polokwane and Johannesburg, heaped lavish praise on Soccer City, SAInfo reported.

“I think that Soccer City is one of the most exciting sites I’ve ever seen in my sporting life,” he said. “Vigilant attention to every detail is now required in all host cities, and all stakeholders now clearly need to understand their roles to deliver memorable finished products across all venues.”

First up
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, which will host seven matches, including one of the semi-finals and is an entirely new venue, was well on course to becoming the first new World Cup stadium to be completed.
More than 90 per cent of the stadium’s construction work is already complete, with more than 20 000 seats installed. The Durban Stadium is far advanced.
Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium had made even more significant progress only three weeks since Fifa president Sepp Blatter paid tribute to its progress, with Polokwane’s Peter Mokaba Stadium and Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium also well placed to meet the Fifa deadlines.

PUBLICATION: www.sofiaecho.com
AUTHOR: Clive Leviev-Sawyer
DATED: 31st October 2008