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Problems still hamper SA's 2010 World Cup dreams


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Problems still hamper South Africa's 2010 World Cup dreams

Times

 

Fans travelling to the World Cup finals in South Africa next year will find that the host nation is so pushed for accommodation that they may be encouraged to base themselves in neighbouring countries. Zimbabwe is being promoted as one of the most likely options.

 

South Africa's lack of hotels means that a system will also be incorporated whereby fans are billeted in local family homes. A further plan is to push for use of hotels in tourist areas that are not near World Cup venues and bus in supporters from afar. An example given by Fifa, the sport's world governing body, is to base fans on the picturesque Garden Route and transport them by bus to Durban, 750 miles away.

 

With only a year and a day until the World Cup final, these are just some of the headlines if you want to be daunted by what lies ahead. At a press conference last week, after South Africa's hosting of the Confederations Cup, Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, said that accommodation and transport were “now a big challenge”.

 

It is quite something for Blatter to acknowledge such blatantly inherent problems. He also said that, because of the chill of the South African winter, camping was not an option for visitors. This may come as a surprise to Polokwane, formerly known as Pietersburg, the northernmost host city, which is planning a campsite for 2,000 people in local school grounds. Again, the solution could lie over the Zimbabwe border, 130 miles away.

 

It should be acknowledged that this is fertile media territory. Before most leading world sporting events, the hosts' flaws are rich pickings for the press. Last year's Olympic Games in Beijing, it was reported, were going to be ruined by smog and human rights atrocities and the venues for the Athens Games four years earlier were never going to be built on time.

 

Yet there may not have been a top sporting event for which scepticism was better founded than South Africa 2010. A prediction here is that, by this time next year, hundreds, maybe thousands, will have missed kick-off times or matches because of transport problems. Another prediction is that South Africa will be unique, providing one of the best and richest sporting experiences imaginable. And also that there may never have been one where global goodwill has been stronger.

 

The World Cup is not only a landmark event for world football, it is a defining event for its host nation. And here's hoping that, once the football circus has been and gone, it will have defined it for the better.

 

Until 70,000 workers went on strike on Wednesday, it seemed that the one certainty for 2010 was the construction of the stadiums. They would be finished and would be splendid.

 

But, despite these recent problems, the evidence is persuasive. The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth is a beauty. The new stadium in Nelspruit is built round 16 pylons made to look like giraffes. From the south stand of the (nearly finished) 46,000-seat venue in Polokwane, which backs on to a game reserve, there will be days when punters will be able to see the real thing. And in Soweto's (almost) rebuilt Soccer City Stadium, the players' tunnel has been designed like the inside of a goldmine, a reflection of the industry that gave Johannesburg its wealth.

 

It does not stop there. Only last November, the near-complete rebuild of another 46,000-seat venue, the Orlando Stadium on the other side of Soweto, was finished. And next week, financiers hope to finalise funding for the new 50,000-seat Amakhozi Stadium in Johannesburg, for the Kaizer Chiefs football club. Yet neither the Orlando nor the Amakhozi is needed as World Cup venues.

 

It is as if a packet of stadium seeds has been sprinkled over the Rainbow Nation. The question is not whether there will be enough world-class facilities for South Africa's World Cup. It is: are there too many? And when the World Cup has been and gone, can they really all fund themselves, as they profess, on a diet of rock concerts, religious festivals and the occasional big sporting event?

 

In an interview with The Times, Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the World Cup organising committee, scotched rumours that it was because of Fifa pressure that stadium hunger broke out. It was South Africa and its host cities, he said, that wanted to make a statement and post an advertisement for the country. An expensive advertisement it is, too. The World Cup “will strengthen this country's profile,” Jordaan said. “The world will be surprised.”

 

Indeed, the surprise for a first-time visitor to Cape Town next year will be turning right out of the airport on to the main road into the city and being confronted with the Langa township, a 60,000 (some say 250,000) tin-shack community at the roadside. Then, farther down the road, finding the new Green Point Stadium in one of the wealthiest, most attractive corners of the city. By the way, there is no public transport system between one and the other.

 

Green Point, at the planning stage, was to cost 1.2 billion rands (about £93 million) but is estimated now at R4.5 billion. In fact, it was not even in the original World Cup bid document because Cape Town was to host matches at Newlands, its historical rugby ground. The same is the case in Durban (costs climbing from R1.6 billion to R3.1 billion), where the magnificent ABSA Stadium was billed as a host until the city decided to build another stadium next to it.

 

There can be no starker picture of flawed planning than the Durban skyline. The city council agreed to the new Durban Stadium because it could be configured as an athletics stadium and therefore host the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. However, to fund itself post-2010, it needs Natal Sharks, the rugby team, to move from their ABSA Stadium home.

 

Yet the Sharks have no intention of doing so, and as Brian van Zyl, their chief executive, said: “Why move into an athletics stadium where the seating is too far from the field of play? We could never understand why they elected to build in the first place. The decision was totally irresponsible and, as a city rate-payer, it was very annoying.”

 

But this is no isolated case. The Super 14 rugby union teams bring in the cash, which is why Green Point also needs the Stormers to move from Newlands. Meanwhile, in Port Elizabeth, for the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, there is no Super 14 team and the Premier Soccer League club have been relegated.

 

And Polokwane has a city population of 250,000, is building a 46,000-seat stadium (with no roof on the east stand because of overspend), has no host team of note and not even a stadium management company appointed to find one.

 

It does not take Lovers Sibanda, the editor of The Speaker, the Polokwane newspaper, to mention the words “white elephant” and say that “it is supposed to be a business that sustains itself, but I don't think it will”.

 

Indeed, of the ten stadiums to be used for the World Cup next year, five have been built from scratch (total cost about R12billion) and not one appears to be a sustainable post-2010 business. Furthermore, only one of the five (in Port Elizabeth) was in the original bid document.

 

There will be many wonderful stories from next year's World Cup, but how and why South Africa 2010 went from its original, economically tight bid to its present shape may be the enduring one. And was it responsible of Fifa to let it do so?

 

Staging a World Cup is a huge investment and South Africa, of all host nations, needs a proper return - to have its reputation swelling, not its overdraft. The hope is that the World Cup will help the First and Third worlds of South Africa to edge closer. Let us hold that hope, but it is becoming a slim one.

 

Potential for lack of air-traffic control

 

There may be no greater test of the logistics at South Africa 2010 than those on match day at the airport in Polokwane. It is an example of how the country has benefited from the World Cup: the main building has been rebuilt, which would not have happened otherwise, but the new building is not remotely large enough to cater for World Cup traffic.

 

Polokwane, formerly known as Pietersburg, is the capital of Limpopo province, a stop-off 230 miles north of Johannesburg. The hope is that the World Cup will advertise the city as the gateway to Kruger Park. At present, the airport's daily traffic involves the arrival and departure of four 30-seat planes. Because airport traffic is counted only one way, Polokwane airport is used at most, therefore, by 120 people. The daily average is 100.

 

During the World Cup, however, this could increase a hundred-fold. At its peak, on match days, in Polokwane a procession of 20 Boeing 737s will come and go. At a minimum, 7,500 people will disembark every day; at most it will be 12,500.

 

The airport authorities have also been informed that, on arrival, they are expected to shift their punters from plane to bus in ten minutes. “You can plan for it, but how do you deal with it?” Sipho Mthombeni, the airport chief executive, said. “It will be a big challenge. Sometimes I lose sleep about it.” The ten-minute transfer? “I don't think it is possible,” he said.

 

He is charged with training 50 temporary staff and using a neighbouring plane hangar as a make-do arrivals lounge. “We have never experienced anything like this,” he said. “It is probable that it will not go as smoothly as we would like.”

 

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Is it me, or are the bits in bold utterly loopy?

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