FIFA is working against SA’s preparation for the 2010 World Cup

Observer Sport’s Xan Rice examines South Africa’s preparation in hosting the 2010 World Cup. The naysayers bring out the same tired reasons for doubting SA’s readiness. Slow pace of construction, cost overruns, high crime rate, poor infrastructure, AIDS are usually cited. More interestingly so, according to Danny Jordaan, the man behind SA’s preparation, some critics have added to the litany citing the civil unrest in Zimbabwe sparked by Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian rule as cause for concern.
FIFA has not exactly provided SA a vote of confidence. Franz Beckenbauer, who chaired the 2006 organising committee, in a rather racist sentiment stated that the South African plans were beset by ‘big problems’. But these, he went on, ‘are not South African problems, these are African problems. People are working against rather than with each other.’ These statements have bolstered the hopes of alternate countries like Australia and the US taking over the World Cup. In fact, SA is taking these perceived threats seriously.
‘People here started saying for the first time, “Shit, you know Fifa really might take this away from us”,’ Luke Alfred, a sportswriter covering the World Cup for the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times , says. ‘This may not have been rooted in reality, but there was genuine concern.’
The problem have been compounded by the fact that FIFA’s priority is ticket sales and TV revenues. Thus, bowing to FIFA pressure, the 50, 000 seater Athlone stadium in Cape Town which sits in the soccer heartland of the city was dropped off the list of World Cup venues. A new stadium that seats 70,000 spectators in the white tony Green Point area of Cape Town is being built. FIFA’s concern was that Athlone stadium located in a blighted neighbourhood with its low cost shanties would turn off tourists and TV viewers.
FIFA’s decidedly unfriendly stance against the common SA soccer fan is also behind the escalation in ticket prices. These prices can only be afforded by the more affluent European tourists, a market that FIFA is obviously targeting. So far, FIFA has been resistant to the idea of a cheaper ‘Africa’ ticket.The thinking is probably partially driven by the fact that substantially less tourists are expected into SA for the 2010 World Cup (500,000 compared to the 3 million tourists who came to Germany for the 2006 World Cup).
Of course, it is not just FIFA doing this, it is also the IOC. In the run up to the 2004 Olympics the IOC was considering shifting the games from Athens to Paris because it seriously doubted Greece’s preparation. The IOC even took out a huge 143 million insurance policy that insured the games against cancellation. The same concern trolls who have dusted off their jackets in time to criticize SA were the ones who were questioning Greece because it was beset with cost overruns. The fact is that Greece was saddled with a security costs of more than a billion euros in a post 9/11 world. Compare that to Sydney’s 2000 Olympics security budget which was five times less.
Much is being made of SA’s ballooning World Cup budget which has seen it increase to a little less than 20 billion rand for stadium construction (8.4 billion rands or £604m) and infrastructure (9 billion rands or £650m). However, the cost runs are not something that unduly bothers people.
‘Can we pay for the World Cup? Absolutely – an unqualified yes,’ says Udesh Pillay, who is executive director of urban, rural and economic development at the Human Sciences Research Council, and leads a project tracking preparations for 2010, says in his office in Pretoria. Pillay adds that most South Africans feel that the sacrifice is worth it. ‘As a country we are never going to close ranks on politics, economic plans or foreign policy,’ he says. ‘But we are mad about sport, so there is no argument about hosting the World Cup. We all want it.’
Here is a bit of perspective. Google Wembley Stadium cost overruns and you get a protracted list of the problems facing one of soccer’s most hallowed grounds. In the end, the new Wembley which opened in time for the 19 May FA Cup final between Chelsea and Man Utd cost £975 million and took eight years. £975 million. One single stadium cost one and half times more than SA’s proposed ten stadiums. £975 million for a soggy pitch.

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