In less than a year, thousands of football fans are expected to turn to Johannesburg as the first whistle blows to start the 2010 FIFA World Cupâ„¢.

With exactly 300 days to go before the first ball of the 2010 FIFA World Cupâ„¢ is kicked, the City has made big strides to ensure the event is a big success – from building world-class stadiums to generating excitement.

Today marks yet another milestone in the road to the World Cup, with less than a year to go to one of the most exciting World Cups ever.

Speaking at the signing of a 99-year lease for Soccer City Stadium between the City and the national Department of Public Works on Friday, 7 August, Executive Mayor Amos Masondo aptly summarised the City’s position concerning hosting one the world’s biggest sporting events.

Each passing day brought us closer to the “much-anticipated first whistle” at Soccer City, he said.

“We are all aware of the fact that the City of Johannesburg features prominently in the four-week soccer spectacular, from the opening ceremony to the blowing of the final whistle.”

The most notable project is Soccer City, which is well on course to becoming a prominent landmark; it is expected to be finished later this year. The 94 700-seat stadium will host the opening match and the final of the World Cup.

Located in the Nasrec precinct, Soccer City boasts state-of-the-art facilities that compare with those found in other modern stadiums around the world.

A unique feature is the stadium’s calabash design, selected as being the most recognisable object to represent what would be associated with the African continent. The calabash, or “melting pot of African cultures”, rests on a raised podium, on top of which is located a “pit of fire”.

Road to cup
Another interesting feature is 10 vertical slots in the stadium that are aligned geographically with nine other World Cup stadiums, including the one in Berlin, in Germany. These slots represent the road to the final; it is hoped that after the tournament, the scores of each game at each venue will be placed in pre-cast concrete panels on the podium, so providing a rich history of the World Cup and all its scores.

Once finished, Soccer City would not only host soccer matches, Masondo said, but would be used for rugby matches, netball and other big events.

“Currently there are more than 2 600 men and women working on site. They are making, on a day to day basis, a huge change to the Johannesburg landscape.”

Already, construction has helped to improve the lives of Johannesburg residents. The stadium workers – most of whom hail from Soweto – have been trained in operating cranes, shutterhand, concrete laying and construction plan operating, among other skills.

Their sweat building the stadium will not be for nought. Starting from Friday, 14 August, they will benefit from a 2010 FIFA World Cup Ticket Fund through which 120 000 complimentary tickets will be distributed to all workers at host stadiums and “deserving South Africans” across the country.

Ellis Park Stadium in downtown Jozi will also host some World Cup games. The 62 000-seat stadium was also renovated to bring it up to FIFA standards and has already been tested. It was the main stadium during the successful 2009 Confederations Cup in June.

On 22 November 2008, Orlando Stadium in Soweto opened to much pomp and ceremony after a R240-million revamp. The stadium has already hosted a number of PSL games and promises to be a favourite venue for South African soccer.

The stadium, which is able to seat 40 000 people, will be a training venue for the World Cup.

Another three stadiums earmarked to be training venues are Rand, Dobsonville and Ruimsig. All the three have been tuned to comply with FIFA standards and are ready to host some of the world’s biggest names in football come 2010.

Confederations Cup
One cannot overlook the part played by the City in making the Confederations Cup, considered a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, a success. Held from 14 to 28 June, the event was a given a 75 percent pass mark by the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter.

Thousands of fans thronged to Ellis Park, despite the chilly weather. The traffic nightmares around the stadium characteristic of local rugby and soccer matches all but disappeared during the eight-nation tournament, thanks to the City’s park and ride facilities.

FIFA identified only a few glitches, including transport and accommodation, which Blatter believed were not adequate. However, at the end of the day, FIFA, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Local Organising Committee South Africa and the City were optimistic that the World Cup was going to be a resounding success.

“Football is a human game. Please help us to create a better world. This World Cup in Africa is more than just an event, but a way to bring together humanity,” said Blatter.

Looking back, Johannesburg’s road to 2010 has been long, but many things have been done and hurdles overcome. In April 2008, it launched the International Broadcast Centre (IBC), the nerve centre for all television operations and the world’s news agencies during the tournament.

Through the IBC, at the Expo Centre in Nasrec, the tournament will be broadcast in high definition television to billions of viewers across the globe. On average, over 2 000 people from the world’s major broadcasters and FIFA’s host broadcaster, HBS, will work around the clock from the IBC in June and July 2010.

On Tuesday, 27 January this year, the City launched its Host City Poster. The designer, Belinda Steenberg, incorporated the City’s famous skyline, the vuvuzela and the rainbow.

In the same month, Joburg named 22 soccer legends to become ambassadors in the build up to and during the Confederations Cup and the World Cup in recognition of their contribution to the development of the sport in Joburg. The soccer legends, who include McDonald “Rhee” Skhosana and Amos “Heel Extension” Mkhari, have been prominent in 2010 World Cup events organised by the City.

Legacy projects
There are also several 2010 legacy projects that Joburg is undertaking, projects that will benefit residents long after the World Cup is gone. One of these is the construction of the Soweto Theatre in Jabulani. On 10 February, the then minister of arts and culture, Pallo Jordan, and Masondo turned the sod at the Old Jabulani Theatre, the site of the new state-of-the-art facility.

Rea Vaya, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, was launched in 2007 and was seen by many people as a way to alleviate traffic congestion and at the same time improve public transport. It is aimed at cutting traffic through setting up a network of buses travelling along dedicated bus ways around Johannesburg.

A prototype BRT station was launched in Joubert Park in November 2008, signalling the first visible milestone in the revolutionary public transport system.

Thousands of football fans are expected to descend on Johannesburg during the World Cup, most of whom may not have tickets to all the match venues. To ensure these visitors experience the Jozi vibe in a match venue environment, the City has planned two official FIFA fan parks, one at Innes Free Park in Sandton and one at Elkah Stadium in Soweto.

It is busy developing these sites, where fans will be able to watch matches live on big screens. Each of the fan parks can accommodate up to 30 000 people.

Besides the official fan parks, two public viewing sites are earmarked – one at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown and one at Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Soweto. Vendors will be able to peddle their wares at these sites, unlike at official fan parks and host stadiums, where only official sponsors can trade.

About 500 000 people are expected to visit Joburg, and they will need quality accommodation. To meet this demand, 19 new hotels are being built. Also, the City is investigating the possibilities of a homestay.

And then there is the other entertainment. Fans and visitors will not be bored between matches as the City is organising a host of fun activities that will run parallel to the World Cup. There is the theatre show, Boys in the Photograph, at the Joburg Theatre Complex; there is the art exhibition, Artists of Africa, taking place at Museum Africa, where local artists and artists from the rest of Africa will be exhibiting.

On a sporty note, there is the Football for Hope Festival, running from 25 June to 10 July in Alexandra in the north. It is a friendly tournament for male and female football teams.

To create hype around the World Cup, the City is recruiting football fans to join the Joburg United team, which is aimed at mobilising Joburgers to become ambassadors for the event. It hopes that by 2010, one million people would have joined the team.