By Thembisa Fakude |15 April 2010
In May 2002, the Federation of International Football Associations (Fifa) decided to rotate the hosting of the World Cup tournament to a different continent every year.
Football, or soccer, as it is known across the Atlantic, is the most popular sport in Africa and many of the continent’s brightest players are in European leagues.
It was therefore rather appropriate that Africa was chosen to host the 2010 tournament.
South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt bid for the tournament but it became clear early on that South Africa – endowed with stable infrastructure and which has hosted a number of successful international tournaments in the past decade – was going to be chosen.
South Africa’s bid was also given a little bit of star power when it was endorsed by Noble Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, and African superstars Abedi Pele and Roger Mila.
When the Rainbow Nation, as our country is affectionately known, was selected as the host, many believed that that Madiba (Mandela) magic had worked its spell.
Mandela is admired for his magic touch and his ability to achieve the impossible; he managed to hold the nation together when he led it from Apartheid to democracy.
But in the five years since, the euphoria has died down as it became evident that Fifa and the Local Organising Committee (Loc) had ignored Africa’s socio-economic realities in their planning and production of this event.
Firstly, the tedious ticketing process has impeded most South Africans from accessing tickets. The ticketing process, which was recently revised, could only be accessed via the Internet.
In Africa, a majority of the people still do not have access to water and sanitation, let alone access to the Internet. Some commentators have expressed their disappointment that Fifa and Loc failed to considered local marketing solutions.
Applying European standards of sales and marketing has only hurt Fifa as it resulted in low ticket sales in South Africa and many other African countries. As a result, many Africans will be deprived of the opportunity to attend the games and join in the festivities.
Fifa announced that over-the-counter ticket sales would begin on April 15.
In another blow, Fifa has also barred local vendors from servicing football fans during the games.
South Africans are an animated people – their tragedies and triumphs are expressed through dance and music.
During the Fifa Confederation Cup held in South Africa late last year, it was not uncommon to find South Africans playing the Vuvuzela – a trumpet that was originally carved from the Kudu horn but is now made of plastic.
But since then participating teams have lodged complaints with Fifa that the Vuvuzela’s loud noises were disruptive and distracted the players.
High crime rate
South Africa today is at a crossroads – some of the country’s cities and townships are going through a difficult period.
The service delivery demonstrations by many of the country’s poor have resulted in riots. The killing of white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche has also raised concern about race issues.
However, the most pressing worry for many in South Africa, as well as visiting delegations, is the country’s high crime rate, especially in the host city Johannesburg, where both the opening ceremony and the final match will be played.
Crime has been amongst the main issues that international commentators and visitors claim might influence the World Cup’s success.
The Loc has somewhat failed to adequately address this concern. Instead, they insisted on showcasing the efforts which highlighted the country’s infrastructural preparedness and attractive tourism destinations.
Recently, Loc’s Chief Executive Officer Danny Jordaan and Fifa General Secretary Jerome Valcke led 120 local and international media on a four-day national tour of all the World Cup stadiums.
The international media staff constantly raised questions about safety and security; many said they would have preferred a conference with the South African government’s safety and security clusters, in addition to the tour.
With less than 70 days before the tournament begins, there is still disquiet about the state of safety and security.
Sport 24, a popular website in South Africa, recently reported that BaySecur, a security company in charge of security for the German national team, has suggested extra security measures for players. They include wearing bullet-proof vests when venturing outside their hotels in South Africa.
According to Sport 24, BaySecur’s Guenter Schnelle said that “the possibility for the players of moving outside of the hotel boundaries should be kept to a minimum otherwise there must be a full escort: armed security guards and bullet-proof vests for the players.”
Best World Cup
Notwithstanding the reservations that some in the world have about South Africa’s ability to host a successful World Cup, it is all systems go according to government officials and Fifa.
Sepp Blatter, head of Fifa, expects that South Africa will host the best ever world cup.
The government and the Loc are equally upbeat about the positive spin-offs that will come as a result of the World Cup, but there has been criticism of the government’s spending on the construction of 10 stadiums in a country which still battles poverty and high unemployment.
However, the level of publicity the South African brand will derive from this event will be unprecedented.
Furthermore the investment in infrastructure will only serve to benefit South Africans in the long-run.