The World’s biggest sporting event is heading to South Africa, and many are concerned as to whether this nation, which only came out of sporting isolation in 1992, is ready to host the FIFA World Cup.
The FIFA Confederations Cup was recently held in South Africa, and is treated as a dress rehearsal for the FIFA World Cup the following year.
President Jacob Zuma opened the Confederations Cup with the words “Ke Nako” meaning, ‘the time is now.’ Luckily for him, the time is in fact June next year when football fans will judge and not be as forgiving if things go as wrong as they did at the Confederations Cup.
Ever since FIFA President Sepp Blatter on May 15 2004 announced that South Africa would host the world’s biggest sporting event, there were many who doubted the wisdom of this decision. Very few doubted the motives behind the decision, to help progress football in one of its poorest continents, but the question was could the country deliver.
Whichever country followed Germany was always going to suffer by comparison, but the differences in attending next year’s FIFA World Cup look like being immense.
One thing that is baffling about the organisation of the tournament in South Africa is the fact that in a country where there is no public transport system, the organisers have decided against basing teams in each group in one area to play their group games at one or two stadia. Instead we have games being played in Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. So they have created a bigger logistical nightmare, not only of moving the teams between venues, but also the fans. The movement of the fans was the biggest hiccup at the Confederations Cup, and looks like being the biggest headache in June next year.
For a start exclusion zones have been set up around the grounds. At Ellis Park it was a 2Km area, which meant that the only way you could get into that area to watch the game was with a permit or on one of the official shuttle buses.
The Gauride shuttle buses are probably the one element that needs the most attention in the next eleven months. As they definitely did not work during the Confederations Cup, and come June 2010 there will be a lot more fans than there were this year, who are not likely to be as patient.
I was based in Pretoria for the Confederations Cup. In order catch the shuttle buses to Ellis Park I had to get to Pretoria Showground’s. Luckily I had friends who gave me a lift, as there is no public transport available, or taxis. To say that this area is not the best to find yourself in late at night after a game is probably a major understatement, but it was the only option open to me.
On my first trip to Ellis Park for the opening game, we had been travelling over an hour and suddenly I noticed that all the locals on the mini bus were becoming restless. It was then that they told me that the driver was lost. He pulled over to the left on the freeway, a discussion took place between him and my fellow passengers, and the next thing I knew we had shot across two lanes, over the grass central reservation and were now speeding up the other side of the freeway going in the other direction.
Once in the exclusion zone we were dropped off, and before heading into the stadium asked if the return bus would be located at the same point after the game. We were told that it would be. Of course after the game there were hundreds of mini buses, none with any signage on them to say where they were headed. Fans were running helter-skelter trying to find buses to Wits, Sharpeville, and Tshwane (Pretoria). I was lucky, I found one with a seat on it and once we made our way through the mayhem we had an uneventful trip back to Pretoria.
But I should not have felt special, as one of the official team buses, actually got lost too, taking the team to the stadium!
The next time I needed to go to Ellis Park I once again went to the Showgrounds, climbed aboard, only this time we were not taken to the stadium, but to another “Park and Ride” point, Coca Cola Dome. This added at least another 40 minutes to the journey. This time however the buses were where they said they would be after the game and they were marked, so lessons were being learned. Although it took forever to get out of the 2Km exclusion zone.
On my third trip to Ellis Park, I was confident that this time everything would be plain sailing. But I forgot that this is Africa! Once again all seemed to be going well until the driver went up the off ramp on the freeway and then went back on the other side heading back whence we had come. When asked what he was doing by my fellow passengers he stated ‘he was lost and so was heading back.’
As expected a riot nearly erupted on the bus. Eventually one of the passengers managed to get GPS on his mobile and directed the driver to Coca Cola Dome, where we had to catch another bus to the ground. By now the clock is ticking and we all knew we were going to be late for the semi final, South Africa v Brazil.
We arrived at the ground five minutes before kick-off. I ran to the entry point only to see about 2000 people in front of me all trying to get through the crash barriers and past security. When I managed to get to the front the security guards were pushing people through the metal detectors, which were beeping incessantly. When anyone stopped to be patted down they were simply told to keep moving! Eventually I took my seat seven minutes after the kick off.
At the stadia, another thing baffled me, and many others I spoke to. On your ticket it stated which gate to enter, yet on all bar two occasions the gate I was instructed to enter proved to be on the opposite side of the stadium to my seat.
In Germany, the stewards were superb in assisting you if you were a little confused. In South Africa expect potluck, when it comes to asking for help. At Ellis Park, there were some stewards who were superb and extremely helpful, whereas others were surly and had no interest in helping anyone. At Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, they were even worse. The seat numbering was not the clearest, and many people found other spectators in their seats, The stewards simply told the ticket holder for that seat to go and find another empty seat! Then when the game kicked off a number of them surged into the empty seats and sat there watching the game.
What was also frustrating at this venue were the late arrivals who making their way up the walkways caused everyone else to have to stand as they could not view one end of the pitch. Also at Loftus there was a problem at half time when many needed to relieve themselves, the Medics were standing in the exit watching the game, and caused a blockage that prevented others getting past.
Despite my reservations about these two stadia, I am pleased to report that the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, was first class. The stadium was good and the Stewards exemplary. Only issue was the park and ride here was 12Kms out of town. I am pleased to say that we drove past and ended up paying ZAR12 (AUD2.50) to park in some guy’s back yard about 1km from the ground.
Another major issue facing the organising committee is the issue of accommodation. 25,000 British and Irish Rugby Union fans were in South Africa for the Lions tour, and they struggled to accommodate them. Come June next year expect twenty times that amount of people descending on South Africa. Amazingly some fans are being accommodated in Livingstone in Zambia, and others in Mauritius. The latter being a four-hour flight to Johannesburg!
For those fans who are used to getting close to a ground, having a few beers soaking up the atmosphere and then walking to the ground, it looks like the South African World Cup will be a very different experience for you.
Some simple tips I would give to anyone heading to South Africa next year for the World Cup are:
· Be prepared to start making your way to the stadia at least two to three hours before the kick off, if you want to be sure to be there on time.
· Take plenty of warm clothes. With kick off times at 8.30pm it gets extremely cold. At kick off for the final at the Confederations Cup it was 8 degrees. In Bloemfontein – another host city – the night before was –7 degrees!
· Take earplugs with you. The Vuvuzela – the horn that the locals blow – although typically African, en masse it sounds like a swarm of bees, it soon becomes extremely annoying. One hope is that there will not be as many at the World Cup as there will not be as many locals attending unless FIFA has to again give away in excess of 70,000 tickets, although that is unlikely.
· Be prepared to find someone sitting next to you who paid a lot less for his or her ticket. At one game a Category B ticket holder who had paid USD50 (ZAR500) was sat next to a local who had paid ZAR70 for his ticket.
· Although all venues are supposed to be smoke free be prepared that this rule is not enforced.
As hosts the people of South Africa will be first class, as every local I met was desperate to show case their country and talk football. Not only that, they were concerned about my safety and frequently asked if I needed assistance getting home.
The biggest question is can the Local Organising Committee and FIFA deliver the infrastructure required to make the tournament a success.
Come this time next year all of these questions will be answered, and to be honest if the football is good one tends to forget the problems off the