England World Cup base nearly ready, insists king

South African tribal leader attempts to allay concerns about team's facilities
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The Independent Online

A tribal leader whose territory will host England during the football World Cup this summer has insisted that the team's hotel and training facilities will be ready in time for their arrival.

Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi, hereditary king of South Africa's semi-autonomous Royal Bafokeng Nation, which is providing accommodation and training facilities for England's players, has admitted that building work will continue up until the last moment. But he also poured scorn on recent reports that his construction teams are struggling to complete England's home in time for the World Cup in June.

"I can't understand that coverage, because it's not the truth," the 42-year-old monarch told The Independent. "The campus is almost complete and we're putting the finishing touches in place. The FA have been round, and they liked what they saw. Essentially it's all systems go," he said in his first interview with a British newspaper.

Our reporter visited the Bafokeng Sports Campus on Friday and found that key sections of the complex are still incomplete, including buildings that will eventually become England's gym, medical facility and media room.

A luxury hotel to house the players has now been completed, but tracts of the dual carriageway linking the campus with the stadium in nearby Rustenburg where England will play their first game have yet to be finished.

Earlier this year it emerged that the England manager, Fabio Capello, had reservations about the quality of the two training pitches. But King Molotlegi insisted the England boss is now happy and receives regular updates: "We're constantly in contact with Capello. His focus is not so much on the accommodation, it's really on the pitch. We have a gentleman who is Fifa-accredited, who speaks to Capello on a regular basis regarding the pitch. That was his main gripe – but now we believe he's satisfied."

If the king expresses a certain impatience at questions over whether there will be enough luxury trappings on offer for England's highly paid football elite, it is because the World Cup is just one of a number of fishes the tribal leader has to fry. As leader of the 300,000-strong Bafokeng, his ultimate priority is to secure his tribe's future. Their lands, which in the apartheid era came under the "homeland" of Bophuthatswana, sit on the world's largest platinum deposits, which the tribe held on to throughout colonial and apartheid-era land grabs.

But King Molotlegi knows the platinum will eventually run out, and he is hoping to use profits from the deposits to establish Bafokeng as a South African Singapore – with education, IT, tourism and professional support as key drivers of the economy.

"Tomorrow could suddenly be the end of platinum, if they found some sort of substitute," he said. "In terms of overall reserves, we have easily 50 to 100 years left. But that's not good enough. We want to move away from a dependence on natural resources within the next 30 years or so."

He hopes, however, that the sports complex built for the World Cup will continue to be used by teams looking for a high-altitude training venue.