SA under a cloud

SA under a cloud


SA under a cloud

UNBRIDLED ENTHUSIASM: While the rest of the world is apprehensive, South Africans are hopeful of putting on quite a show.On June 11, 2010, the world's largest sporting event and, many believe, the most important will open with an African host for the first time.

The month-long, 32-team tournament football World Cup, to be held in 10 stadiums around South Africa, will present organisers with significant challenges regarding security, transportation and accommodation of the expected 450,000 international visitors.

For years, rumours have percolated that the 2010 World Cup would be moved elsewhere because officials of FIFA, soccer's world governing body, feared South Africa would not be prepared to host such a major event less than 20 years after dismantling the racial policies of apartheid.

But it is far too late for any contingency plans. A two-week dress rehearsal, the Confederations Cup, ended last fortnight with the championship match between the USA and Brazil. The World Cup is coming in a year. Will South Africa be ready? The answer appears to be a qualified yes.

The Confederations Cup was reasonably well run. The four stadiums used were safe and secure, and construction on other stadiums should be finished by the end of the year. The fans were celebrative and supportive of all teams. The weather was mostly spectacular. And the soccer was often riveting.

At the same time, few international visitors attended the tournament. A park-and-ride system to ferry fans to and from the stadiums often worked poorly. And 15,000 more hotel rooms are still needed to fully accommodate World Cup ticket-holders. Several highly publicised incidents, involving the disappearance of money from the hotel rooms of Egyptian and Brazilian players, and the mugging of a few British rugby fans, also left organisers scrambling to assure that the World Cup will be played out in a safe environment.

Still, despite some inevitable glitches, ‘the world has seen that South Africa is able to host a tournament,’ said Jerome Valcke, the general secretary of FIFA. “On a scale of 1 to 10, you are more than a five and closer to eight.”

Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, said there was a ‘moral responsibility’ to bring the World Cup to South Africa.

“People don't want to trust Africa,” he said. “That is wrong. Africa has given so much not only to football but to the whole world. Someday, something should come back. So let's have this World Cup. Let's celebrate Africa. Why not?”

The World Cup is viewed as a defining moment for South Africa, with $75 billion in improved roads, airports and other infrastructure; the creation of 415,000 jobs; the potential enhancement of international investment and tourism; and continued nation-building in the wake of nearly half a century of apartheid.

Football has generally developed as the preferred sport for blacks, while rugby is the number one sport for whites. But during a Confederations Cup match between South Africa and Spain in Bloemfontein, the multi-racial crowd may have been the most integrated ever in a South African stadium, said Danny Jordaan, CEO of the World Cup organising committee.

“Nelson Mandela struggled for, went to jail for and was released pursuing a vision of a country that would recognise every human being as equal,” Jordaan said. “We want to move to a united future. What you need are projects that bind a nation, that carry a common and shared vision. I think that is what the World Cup will do.”

Security experts have said no major sporting event in South Africa has been marred by serious violence. Still, organisers acknowledge they must convince World Cup visitors that they can move around safely in a country that averages 50 murders a day and is beset with increases in crimes like carjacking.

“The most important thing is the safety of people,” said Lucas Radebe, the retired captain of South Africa's 1998 and 2002 World Cup teams, who is a roving ambassador for the 2010 World Cup.

Security concerns were whipped into a froth during the Confederations Cup over highly publicised, disputed reports about the disappearance of $2,400 from the hotel rooms of five Egyptian players and a small amount of money from the room of a Brazilian player. It remains unclear whether the Egyptians lost their money to burglars or to women invited to celebrate in their hotel after a victory over Italy. The circumstances involving the Brazil player are also uncertain.

Organisers and other supporters of South Africa's World Cup effort acknowledge that the country still faces many social problems. Yet they suggest that ignorance, paternalism and prejudice among Westerners have created an unfairly alarmist view of South Africa. They note that some South Africans were robbed and had their pockets picked at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but that those incidents did not draw similarly alarmist headlines.

“It pains us a great deal when we read newspaper accounts from abroad saying a lot of lies about our country,” Bareng-Batho Kortjaas, an influential sports columnist and talk-radio host, said. “Untruths, like there's going to be no electricity, people are maimed at the airport, women are raped in the streets. Let us change our mindset when it comes to Africa. We are not savages. We are human beings.”

New York Times News Service

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