World Cup bypasses South Africa's neighbours

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The Independent Online

As the Lesotho Stars and Naughty Boys FC warm up for their match in a dirt lot on the outskirts of Lesotho's capital Maseru, the players bounce to the beats streaming from a cell phone on the sideline. Some footballers wear just one shoe, some wear none at all, and one is playing in a uniform of underwear and a polo shirt.

The song, playing on repeat, is hip-hop artist K'Naan's "Wavin' Flag", the unofficial anthem of the 2010 World Cup - an event these amateur players discuss with a mixture of excitement and disappointment.

Many in Lesotho, a small mountain kingdom surrounded entirely by South Africa, hoped the World Cup would bring tourists, strengthen the economy and help develop football in the impoverished country.

But as the June 11 kick-off nears, Lesotho - like the rest of South Africa's smaller, poorer neighbours - will largely miss out on the payoffs of Africa's first World Cup.

Many of the Stars and Naughty Boys said they will only watch the tournament on TV, even though host city Bloemfontein is just two hours away.

"When you've got nothing, you're not going to see these teams yourself," Thabo Mokuku told AFP.

Last month, FIFA said ticket sales to the rest of the continent were far below original predictions, with only 40,000 African fans expected in the stadiums.

South African tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk blamed FIFA's high prices and the exclusive use of web-based sales, which he called "a huge mistake" for a continent with limited Internet access.

Others blame the local organisers in South Africa for not wanting to accommodate African fans.

"We will watch it at home on television like any other world sports event," said Fennie Shaduka, a receptionist at a law firm in Namibia, South Africa's neighbour to the northwest.

Predictions that overseas tourists would combine the World Cup with trips to neighbouring countries failed to pan out after the global financial crisis and a drop in the number of expected visitors from 450,000 to 300,000.

Winter months from June to August are normally peak season in Namibia and Botswana, but some of those tourists might be put off by World Cup crowds, said Robin Sherbourne, an economist with Old Mutual Namibia.

"There is a considerable danger that the displacement effects associated with discouraged tourists - who are put off by the football, the higher prices, the fully booked flights and hotels and are attracted by better deals elsewhere - outweigh the benefits," he said.

No World Cup side is training outside South Africa, despite efforts by Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to attract teams.

Zimbabwe did set up a warm-up match between the national side and Brazil, but the cash-strapped country had to pay the five-time champions an appearance fee of 1.8 million dollars (1.5 million euros).

Tsebo Matsasa, a small businessman who started a tourist lodge in Lesotho last year, said World Cup organisers should have done more to market the neighbouring countries.

"I read about the World Cup in France, that when you bought a ticket, it would come with a package of some things that you could do while you were there," he said. "Lesotho has some things to offer. That information by now could have been all over the place."

But Matsasa said it's not too late to capitalise on World Cup publicity.

"This is a time when some people for the first time will be aware that there's a country actually inside South Africa," he told AFP.

"So if we can have a post-World Cup programme aiming at marketing Lesotho, then I think we can really do good."