With 204 days remaining, the organisers are confident of solving problems around travel, safety and ticketing. Today, it echoes to the sound of a few hundred construction workers putting the finishing touches to a cavernous stadium modelled on an African calabash cooking pot. But in 204 days’ time, the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg will house 87,000 fans and buzz to the drone of the vuvuzela horns that will be the backing track of next summer’s tournament.
Just 18 years after South Africa was readmitted to Fifa following the collapse of apartheid, their team, whose prospects are not viewed with much hope, will kick off the first World Cup on African soil. The overall Â£800m in capital investment from public funds has been sold as a stimulus that will boost the economy by 55.7bn rand (Â£4.45bn), create 415,400 new jobs and leave a legacy in everything from transport infrastructure to the strength of the domestic league. More broadly, Fifa also claims it will leave a footballing legacy for the whole continent, promising new pitches for every country and 20 new “Football for Hope” centres to house social projects. Others may question whether the $9m (Â£5.36m) promised for the scheme amounts to much when placed alongside the projected $3.2bn in sponsorship, marketing, TV and hospitality revenues the 2010 World Cup will deliver.
Tonight the final list of qualifiers will be known and tomorrow representatives from each of the 32 nations will attend a flag-raising ceremony in Johannesburg. Following the World Cup draw on 4 December, the final scramble for tickets, flights and accommodation will begin. Given the long list of concerns and dramatic headlines 18 months ago around stadiums, safety and transport, remarkable progress has been made. But while the stadiums should be ready and full, plenty of questions remain. “We’re quite comfortable about where we sit today. We’re just waiting for the draw. It’s now about accommodation, transportation, sale of tickets, hospitality and football,” said Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the 2010 organising committee. “We’re going out of the bricks-and-mortar phase to the reality of the challenges ahead. We want the country to come together. We want to move together as a South Africa that embraces everybody.”
A huge building programme has seen five of the 10 stadiums constructed from scratch in Durban, Polokwane, Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit and Cape Town, and two others (including Soccer City) substantially rebuilt. Almost all the construction work has gone over budget as costs have soared and progress has been intermittently halted by strikes and pay disputes. Central and local government budgets have had to be stretched, prompting criticism that the World Cup is a luxury South Africa cannot afford.
In Cape Town the stunningly located Green Point Stadium, perched on the waterfront between Robben Island and Table Mountain, will now cost 4.5bn rand, 125% over budget, but should be ready on schedule by the end of the year. Durban’s new Moses Mabhida Stadium is perhaps the pick of all the new venues, with a sweeping arch that will enable visitors to ride a “sky car” to its highest point and, if they so choose, bungee jump towards the pitch, it forms the centrepiece of a wholesale regeneration of the beachfront that could lead to a bid for the 2024 Olympics.
But in Cape Town and Durban, the decision was taken to build new venues rather than using the existing Newlands and Kings Park arenas. Unless their respective rugby teams can be persuaded to use them, it is difficult to see how they can be viable afterwards. In smaller venues, such as Rustenburg, near where Fabio Capello is expected to establish England’s training base, and Nelspruit, where allegations of corruption and disputes over workers’ rights overshadowed the construction, there are also fierce debates about legacy.
With just seven months to go, most of the host cities are riddled with roadworks. Beside each of the new stadiums, rail terminals are also being built as South Africa attempts to knit together a patchy public transport system with park-and-ride schemes and shuttle buses. Organisers admit that it lacks the high-speed road and rail links that allowed fans to travel with ease in Germany and Japan/South Korea.
Many fans will base themselves in Johannesburg and drive to the six stadiums within three and a half hours. Carjacking is an issue, with 15,000 recorded incidents last year, but organisers insist the threat is overplayed. The road system between major cities is well-developed but long-distance rail travel is less highly regarded. Most fans, especially those on official packages, will fly in and out for matches â€“ some from as far as Mauritius.
Airports are being expanded and flights will continue into the early hours. Most challenging will be the shuttle system designed to ferry fans away from smaller venues on 1,000 extra buses and 200 extra planes. Organisers insist it will work like clockwork, with fans simply funnelled on the first available flight.
Police chiefs have sought to reassure the estimated 483,000 visiting fans that the country’s disturbing crime statistics, including 18,148 murders a year, do not tell the full story. They say a huge blanket deployment of police and security officers, with 41,000 dedicated to policing the World Cup alone, will make the country far safer during the tournament and point out that the vast majority of crimes are accounted for by cases where the victim knows the perpetrator.
The Football Association, fans’ groups, local organisers and the Foreign Office will bombard fans with information about commonsense ways to stay safe. Experience has taught the police during rugby and cricket tours that large groups of fans are unlikely to stray too far off the beaten track. Exactly how South African police handle the build-up of fans in city centres will go a long way to determining their ability to maintain control. Stories in the South African press highlighting a “zero tolerance” approach to policing demonstrations and gatherings, together with mass orders for new water cannons, body armour and all-terrain vehicles, spark fears of confrontation.
But Senior Superintendent Vish Naidoo, chief spokesman for the police, pointed to their successful policing of other major sporting events as evidence of their preparedness. He said they would have a large but unobtrusive presence. The French gendarmerie have been brought in to conduct a mass training programme in crowd control, while English police will join colleagues from other countries and Interpol to help with intelligence and gauge the mood of the crowds. Policing the mass migration of fans around the country will also present challenges. Organisers have come up with the novel solution of special carriages on trains that will allow unruly fans to be charged and put in the cells en route.
Even in Durban, considered relatively well-served for hotel rooms, there were concerns during the recent Lions tour that the travelling army of 40,000 fans did not have enough places to stay. With predictions about the total number of England’s travelling support ranging anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000, plus fans of other nations to consider, one of the biggest headaches for organisers will be finding them all a bed for the night.
Jordaan insisted the mass migrations of fans would be managed successfully. “I think we have enough accommodation, but not always in the right places. In some of the host cities, if we get a big match we will have to accommodate people outside the host city, move them in and move them back,” he said. Fans travelling independently will present the biggest challenge. Following the draw, when it will be clearer where the pinch points will be, Jordaan said organisers would use a dedicated website and fan embassies in each city to provide advice and information. Supporters should plan ahead, with anyone turning up and hoping to find a bed likely to face problems.
One of the major concerns is whether the vast majority of South Africans will be able to participate in the party. Intermittent protests in townships about promised improvements to basic living standards not happening while the country prepares for the tournament have recently hit the headlines. It is imperative that organisers are seen to involve the local population. They insist that the atmosphere will be authentically African rather than a bland, soulless experience. Fears have been partly allayed by a Fifa scheme to distribute 80,000 free tickets from sponsor allocations to locals, with an emphasis on young people. Forty thousand more free tickets will go to construction workers. But that will still make up a minority of the total 3m tickets.
Early concerns that South Africans would be outnumbered by overseas visitors and corporates led to a huge marketing campaign. Now, more than 55% of the 668,525 tickets sold have gone to buyers from the host nation. The second phase of ticket sales closes on Friday but by far the biggest tranche of tickets will go on sale after the draw. The cheapest tickets cost 140 rand (Â£11), a huge outlay for those in South Africa’s townships who are the sport’s keenest followers. By way of comparison, a ticket for a South African Premier League game costs about 20 rand.
As far as England are concerned, many fans will be left frantically searching for scarce tickets. Those on official packages will have tickets included, while 48,274 tickets for as yet undrawn matches have been sold to UK applicants. Just 10% of the capacity for each of England’s matches will be made available through the FA to supply to the official supporters’ group, Englandfans. In order to combat touting, buyers will receive their tickets only once they have arrived in South Africa. Fifa has also launched a crackdown on online ticket touts in conjunction with the Metropolitan police, but it is not likely to be enough to prevent a thriving black market.
PUBLICATION: The Guardian
AUTHOR: Owen Gibson
DATED: 18th October 2009