South Africa 2010: Countdown to the rainbow World Cup

Will the stadia be ready? How will the fans get around? And will they be safe? Daniel Howden examines the task facing South Africa
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The Independent Online

Asleek new arrival has landed between the slope of Cape Town's Signal Hill and its Atlantic shore. This steel oval with a stretched fibre-glass skin is going to become very familiar to television viewers all over the world next June. It will provide the shot that studio producers will want: an ultra-modern, glow-in-the-dark arena cast in the shadow of the undoubtedly spectacular Table Mountain.

The Green Point stadium, perhaps more than any of the stadia being built for next year's World Cup in South Africa, is emblematic of the ambitions, contradictions and problems thrown up by preparations for the largest sporting event the continent has hosted.

Late to begin construction, dogged first by planning disputes then beset by labour strikes, it is now on course to finish ahead of schedule. Craig Urquhart, who runs an independent news portal monitoring World Cup preparations, has been watching the finishing touches being applied in recent weeks from his office three streets away. "It started late and was affected by labour stoppages but it's 95 per cent there," he said. The roof will soon be on and the field which will host six group games and knock-out matches up to the semi-final, is being grown at a farm nearby. "It's going to be among the finest stadia in the world," he predicted.

This is the South Africa that Fifa signed up for and the one that the government and television producers will want to showcase. A stone's throw away from the Victoria and Albert Dock complex with its modern shopping arcades and luxury apartments, this is by a distance the wealthiest city in sub-Saharan Africa.

But there is more to South Africa than the relative affluence of the Western Cape and the country's high crime rates worry many potential visitors. Johannesburg looms large in this context with two venues and some of the world's most frightening crime statistics and stories.

The US embassy last year warned that armed gangs were targeting new arrivals at the Oliver Tambo International Airport. Spotters at the arrivals terminal would identify a victim who would then be followed and either robbed at gun-point outside the airport or at their hotel. South African police strongly denied reports of a crime syndicate but some tourists were mugged in the reception areas of upmarket hotels.

Before anyone scraps plans to head south it's worth considering the scale of the security operation that will shield World Cup visitors. More than 41,000 new police officers will have been hired. Security corridors will be set up linking airports to hotels to venues.

Cameras and spotter aircraft will, according to police chief Vish Naidoo, be able "to clearly see a beauty spot on your face".

Mr Urquhart foresees a few minor incidents rather than a crisis: "There's going to be such a massive security blanket that there's not going to be a big issue." Problems if they do come are likely to happen away from the obvious areas, "as soon as you venture out of those corridors, there are no guarantees," he warned.

The real problem that veteran observers are watching, though, is transport. When Fifa gave South Africa 7.5/10 for its management of the warm-up Confederations Cup recently it was transit systems not gun crime that worried it.

With the exception of a break-in at the Egypt team's hotel the tournament passed off relatively peacefully, as did the British Lions rugby tour, the Indian Premier League cricket and a host of other sports events, 2010 organisers point out.

South Africa is 3.5 times the size of the previous host, Germany, and while six of the venues are clustered within a few hours' drive of Johannesburg the other four are scattered from Durban on the east coast to Cape Town on the west.

With no properly functioning rail network and thousands of miles to go this is going to be the most daunting problem for do-it-yourself fans. England supporters who have signed up for the official packages which include match tickets for first-round games, internal flights and a short safari, costing from £3,995, will manage, but at a cost. More than 42,000 World Cup tickets have already been bought in the UK with only two of the five phases of sales completed.

It's going to come down to "a lot of flying" Mr Urquhart believes. But there are problems that fans won't be able to fly over. South Africa's cities suffer from traffic jams that would not look out of place in Los Angeles. At the Confederations Cup a park-and-ride system was devised to deliver fans and media to the venues but while this worked on the way there, local sports reporter Lebo Seale remembers, it didn't work so well on the way back. "After the final whistle you have 50,000 people streaming out of the ground," he said. "No one knew where to go for buses and it meant long waits, especially at the night games."

Thousands of disoriented supporters wandering the streets of Johannesburg after midnight looking for a way to get to their hotel is the organisers' nightmare.

The solution is meant to be the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system but this has run into the formidable political force that is South Africa's taxi operators' union. They were able to win important concessions from the incoming President, Jacob Zuma, during elections earlier this year and could still stall the BRT.

And then there is the small matter of where to stay. Fifa block-booked tens of thousands of the country's best hotels this month and on paper it appears there's a major shortfall. However, tourism experts believe that what's happening is that many smaller operations, from guest houses to bed-and-breakfasts are wary of signing up to official schemes, believing they will make more money going it alone.

Organisers are looking into back-up options from cruise ships to university hostels, but until the draw is completed in December much of this last-minute accommodation can't come online. Estimates of the number of foreign visitors expected range from the conservative 100,000 to half a million.

The biggest challenge for the hosts is going to be countering those who are instinctively nervous about an event on this scale being staged in Africa. "There's an enormous amount of Afro-pessimism and it tends to dominate overseas perception," said Mr Urquhart.

Watching the action: How to get tickets

Fans hoping to attend the tournament next summer can apply for tickets online through the Fifa website, fifa.com. You can buy up to four tickets per match, for up to seven matches – the most any team could play.

Another option is to follow the progress of a single team by purchasing a "team-specific ticket series" of between three and seven matches. If a team gets knocked out, fans can attend the games played by the side that defeated them instead.

Ticketing is currently in the second phase, which runs from 4 May to 16 November, after which tickets will be issued on a first-come-first-served basis. They are priced as follows:

Opening match: £120-£270; group games £48-£97; second-round matches £60-£120; quarter-finals £90-£181; semi-finals £151-£362; final £241-£543.

Travel agents have already reported a surge of bookings since England made certain of their place in the tournament. Although it is low season in South Africa, outbound flights before the event begins on 11 June and returning shortly afterwards are selling for £1,250 – more than twice the usual fare. When fans from other European countries begin to book, prices are likely to soar still further.

Booking a return flight to Johannesburg seems to be the best strategy. Although Cape Town is a more appealing gateway, Johannesburg is at the heart of the action and has better transport links than other cities.

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