Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 23 News List

World Cup: S Africa 2010: the next big challenge


A South Africa supporter celebrates in Johannesburg in May 2004 after South Africa was chosen to host the 2010 World Cup.


As South Africa takes on the responsibility of organizing the next World Cup, exuberance -- and not necessarily efficiency -- appears to be paramount.

FIFA kicks off the journey to the 2010 World Cup at a July 7 ceremony in Berlin. Dubbed "Africa's Calling," it will be attended by South African President Thabo Mbeki and African soccer greats George Weah, Abedi Pele, Roger Milla and Lucas Radebe.

But will South Africa be ready?

"It will be a world-class event," organizing committee head Danny Jordaan said. "We are looking at a celebration of Africa."

South Africans are gearing up for the biggest national party since the end of apartheid in 1994. More spontaneous than the normally reserved Germans, they are promising to give visitors a welcome they never will forget.

"We want the event to showcase South Africa and also to leave an enduring and lasting legacy for the whole continent," Jordaan said.

True, visiting fans will be confronted by poverty and ugly shacks, and crime is shockingly high.

But that didn't tarnish the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations or the 2003 cricket World Cup.

"There are many challenges, but we have faced many, many challenges in the past," Jordaan said. "We are determined to succeed."

Transportation is the biggest headache on the horizon. Authorities plan to spend about US$1.4 billion on upgrades to airports, roads and railway lines. The improvements will be sorely needed before raucous soccer fans arrive by the thousands, demanding swift passage to the next match.

Air travelers arriving at the commercial hub of Johannesburg currently transfer their own luggage between international and domestic terminals. In contrast to Germany's superb intercity transport system, there are no high-speed trains to whisk fans around South Africa.

The creation of a much-vaunted high-speed train link between the airport and the capital city of Pretoria, an hour's drive away, looks increasingly doubtful. And suburban trains are notoriously prone to strikes, breakdowns and muggings.

"We have the Blue Train," Jordaan said, referring to a luxurious hotel train for pampered passengers, who dress for dinner on a lingering, 27-hour journey.

"I certainly believe that with the so-called crime or transport or all these perceived problems that we South Africans will be able to overcome the challenges," said Raymond Hack, CEO of the South African Football Association.

The government has set 2010 as a target to replace all old and dangerous minibus taxis -- the backbone of the transport system. But even if the fleet is modernized, it will be inadequate for the number of passengers involved. Private cars would have to fill the gap.

One option would be to minimize travel by basing all four teams in each group in one city for first-round matches.

Jordaan, who has been a delegate at the past four World Cups, says the concept of the Fan Fest -- with tens of thousands of ticketless fans enjoying each match on big screens in a party atmosphere -- will likely be expanded.

"It's going to be a very important aspect of the tournament as there will be even greater demand than in Germany," said Jordaan, mindful that tickets will be far out of the price range of most Africans.

The government has budgeted an additional US$823 million to build and renovate 10 stadiums. Organizers insist all is going according to schedule, though there are few signs of any work starting.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top