Poor people in South Africa will receive free or very cheap tickets to World Cup matches when the tournament is held there in 2010. FIFA, soccer's world governing body, is drawing up plans to ensure that ordinary people can experience at first hand an event that many could otherwise not afford to attend.
"We are talking about either giving away some tickets to the local population, which could come from our sponsors' allocation of seats, or having very, very cheap prices for South Africans. Something along these lines will definitely happen," a FIFA official said. "We are determined to find ways of ensuring that the host population are not excluded from this huge event on their doorsteps."
The average income per head in South Africa is ?2,600 (US$4,925) a year, according to the World Bank. But tickets at this summer's World Cup in Germany cost from ?25 to ?300; few of the soccer-mad black population could afford to see matches in 2010 at such prices.
FIFA is worried that, unless action is taken, matches could be played in half-empty stadiums, which would damage the atmosphere and create a negative impression of the tournament among billions of TV viewers.
"The World Cup is moving from a rich, European country ... to a country that's quite poor and will not attract as many foreign fans as Germany because of its location. So ticketing is a real challenge. We'll have a unique solution to a unique situation," the FIFA source said.
The exact number of free or cut-price tickets, and the best way to distribute them, has yet to be worked out by a ticketing committee that FIFA is setting up. But the principle of poor locals receiving preferential treatment has been agreed by FIFA bosses and endorsed by the organization's president, Sepp Blatter, who campaigned hard for soccer's biggest showpiece to be staged in Africa for the first time.
FIFA hopes that the initiative will help dispel the gathering gloom around the next World Cup. There are growing fears that some stadiums will not be ready, that public transport will be woefully inadequate and that visitors will become victims of South Africa's high crime rates. There has even been speculation that the event might be moved to Australia, the US or England.