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The Warsaw Voice » Other » March 5, 2008
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Soccer Lessons From South Africa
March 5, 2008   
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As Poland prepares for the 2012 European soccer championships, it can learn from the challenges that South Africa is facing in the run-up to hosting the 2010 World Cup.

The African country, still a young democracy, is battling problems with electricity blackouts and a high crime rate. Meanwhile-in an echo of concerns in Poland-fears have been voiced that stadiums will not be constructed in time for the month-long World Cup tournament, which begins June 11, 2010.

While fans are worried, the authorities insist that such obstacles will be surmounted. South African officials have repeatedly assured the public that the construction of 10 stadiums and other key infrastructure will be finished in time for the World Cup. But the media have voiced fears that cost overruns and labor unrest could throw the plans into disarray and perhaps even cause the organizers to decide not to hold the championships, the most high-profile spectacle in soccer, in South Africa.

Edward Griffiths, an official from the local organizing committee, said at a recent press conference, "This tournament will happen in South Africa, there is no doubting that. There are signed agreements and South Africa is right on schedule to deliver."

Griffiths admitted that the widespread power cuts had been a setback. "They have been very damaging in terms of the economy, but we will get through it. It won't affect the hosting of the 2010 World Cup."

Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile conceded when addressing journalists in Pretoria recently, "We can't pretend that the power cuts are not a threat. They cause anxiety but they cannot cause cancellations." He said that the sports ministry had given the Department of Minerals and Energy 260 million South African rands (23 million euros) for the purchase of grid generators should the energy crisis not be solved by 2010.

In terms of the stadiums being built or upgraded, Griffiths reported that all, except Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, were ahead of schedule. The new Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, which will host the opening ceremonies and the World Cup final, is about a month ahead of schedule, he said, and Durban's new 70,000-seater stadium, which is expected to form the center point of a bid for the 2020 Olympics, is also ahead.

Even though the seaside tourist center of Cape Town "has been beset by strikes and disputes, and is almost a month behind," Griffiths said, "we will get through these difficulties and the stadiums will all be delivered on time." He added, "Wembley Stadium in London took six-and-a-half years to build, but Soccer City, with a capacity of 87,400, will be up in two-and-a-half years."

The projects are costing the South African government around 40 billion rands (3.5 billion euros), Griffiths said, but "the 30 days of this tournament can help people think twice about Africa." He added, "This is a 30-day advertisement for South Africa, and we have to ensure that it is leveraged for the greatest benefit of the country."

Tourism accounts for 8 percent of South Africa's gross domestic product and the many visitors to the country will need a room to stay. Huge hotel and transport projects are going ahead to cater for the influx of the world's media and soccer supporters. More than 12 new hotels are being built in Cape Town.

The country's high level of violent crime has also cast a dark cloud over the buildup, with some critics warning that fans and players could be easy pickings for criminals during World Cup events in the nine host cities. Official figures suggest that half a million visitors will attend, but some experts say it could be far higher, up to a million.

Meanwhile, crime levels are frightening all over the country, especially in the north where the majority of the matches will be played. But Griffiths said, "It is not accurate to portray South Africa as uniquely dangerous. And 30,000 more police will be deployed in the country by the time of the World Cup. The government has targeted a reduction in crime levels by 5 to 7 percent each year over the next five years."

The murder of former soccer player Peter Burgstaller from Austria, who was invited to the 2010 preliminary draw, heightened fears about crime. FIFA President Sepp Blatter condemned the murder but continued backing South Africa as host for the World Cup in 2010. Police quickly arrested two suspects over the killing.

Other issues the country needs to address include dealing with prostitution and deciding whether to allow drinking of alcohol in the streets, which is illegal at the moment.

Alexandra Smit-Stachowski, Capetown
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