With the 2010 World Cup fast approaching, Ciarán Ó Braonáin believes that questions still surround South Africa’s ability to host the prestigious competition
As the World Cup qualification stages finally reach the business end of proceedings, the prospect of travelling to the southern tip of Africa becomes a very real prospect for many fans. With teams of the calibre of England, Spain, Netherlands and Brazil booking their places already, we now turn to the host country itself to be sure that South Africa is ready for the World Cup.
There is certainly no lack of enthusiasm to be found for the event, with almost 68,000 people, mostly South African, having already applied for volunteer work – almost exactly the same amount that applied to help at Germany 2006. With the competition fast approaching, however, building deadlines seem more and more challenging, though both FIFA and the South African government have stated their confidence in all projects being completed well in line with schedules.
South Africa may be a football mad country but it is also a country enveloped by mass crime, widespread poverty and – as a recent UN study has shown – one of the highest illegal drugs usage rates in the world. It is also a country still struggling to bridge a bitter racial divide.
Aside from the understandable issues resulting from the decades of apartheid, there is an immense general xenophobic atmosphere existent in South Africa. This was highlighted in gruesomely horrific fashion in May 2008 when photographs of thirty-five year old Mozambique father-of-three Ernesto Nhamuave, who was burned alive by a bloodthirsty mob, were beamed around the world. Nhamuave’s only crime was that he was foreign.
Stories like this do not exactly fill the travelling football fan with giddy excitement at the prospect of following their nation south for the summer. That said, last year saw South Africa’s World Cup dress rehearsal, the Confederations Cup, go off without any major worries in supporter safety. In fact the country has played host to many major sports events, from the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003 to last summer’s Lions’ tour, all of which were greeted as tremendous successes.
The one major problem highlighted by the Confederations Cup (excluding those incessant vuvuzela horns) was the issue of transport. South African city transport is reliant on private minibus companies, which are currently undergoing an overhaul with the World Cup in mind. Massive investment has been put into the Gautrain, a new rail system in the Johannesburg-Pretoria region, but this will be only partially completed come summer 2010 and will not reach anywhere near most of the World Cup stadia.
Besides the issue of transport and a few instances of petty theft, the signs from Africa are encouraging. With luck the Rainbow Nation will fulfill its promise of bringing “fashion, colour, life, variety and diversity” to the competition, and live up to the lofty expectations of President Thabo Mbeki, who recently boasted: “We said we will host in 2010 the most successful FIFA World Cup and we will keep that promise.”
We can only try to be confident that the first ever African World Cup is as breathtaking a spectacle as the South African hosts expect it to be.