The 2010 World Cup in South Africa
It's nearly four years until kickoff, but the buzzards are already circling around the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Rumours are rife that FIFA has designated Australia as an "alternate host," though soccer's governing body denies it. The United States has also been mentioned as a possible fill-in. Germany felt the need to announce it is not willing to host another World Cup in four years.
South Africa's effort has been plagued by organizational snafus, spiralling costs and the general feeling that a developing nation is not up to the task of hosting the world's biggest sporting event. Several soccer eminences have already criticized South Africa's progress, not the least of whom was Germany 2006 boss Franz Beckenbauer.
"The organization for the World Cup in South Africa is beset by big problems," Beckenbauer said last week.
"But these are not South African problems, these are African problems. People are working against rather than with each other."
In South Africa, the Kaiser's broadside prompted outrage from some and agreement from others, which sort of proves his point.
The nation has successfully hosted cricket and rugby World Cups, but 2010 will be something on a vastly different scale. Several huge stumbling blocks must be overcome. They include:
South Africa's two largest communities have a clear sporting divide — blacks generally follow soccer, while whites follow rugby and cricket.
The best existing stadiums in the country are primarily rugby pitches. Thus, the organizing committee was faced with a thorny decision — refurbish the existing stadiums, leaving an enormous legacy to rugby fans, or create new soccer-specific stadiums, which would likely become white elephants after the World Cup.
The organizers have chosen to refurbish five stadiums (including four rugby fields) and build five new "multi-purpose" venues. That sort of pricy difference splitting is unlikely to please everyone.
When South Africa was awarded the World Cup in 2004, organizers estimated stadium costs at $330 million (Canadian). Last week, in announcing their final construction plans, that estimate had risen more than three-fold to $1.2 billion (Canadian). As precious months slip by with no action, all levels of government continue to bicker about who will foot the bill.
Jabu Moleketi, the head of the government's 2010 technical committee, has warned that if construction is not underway by January "we are in serious trouble."
South Africa lacks a modern, transnational rail system. Its roads cannot accommodate the expected increase in traffic. There aren't nearly enough hotel rooms. And those are just the most pressing problems. That leaves organizers with less than four years to create a First World infrastructure in a vast, underdeveloped nation.
Did we mention that the money to pay for all this has yet to appear?
South Africa is plagued by violent crime. There were 19,000 homicides there in 2004, the second worst per-capita rate in the world aside from Colombia (a country which, incidentally, gave up the 1986 World Cup). Plans are in place to hire 11,000 police officers and dramatically increase electronic surveillance.
But as things stand, South Africa faces huge difficulty convincing visitors they will be safe.
It's one thing to build a 100,000-seat stadium — like the proposed Soccer City in Johannesburg.
It's another thing to justify it. The most popular pro-soccer team in South Africa, the Kaizer Chiefs, draws an average of 23,000 fans to a home game. Tickets cost roughly less than $3.
It's stating the obvious to say that South African soccer has little need for — and even less ability to maintain — 10 enormous facilities after the summer of 2010.
South Africa will host the Confederations Cup in 2009 — a final opportunity to prove they are up to the World Cup challenge.
Until then they will lean on their strongest supporter, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, who has staked his personal legacy on staging a successful World Cup in Africa.
His single-minded backing may be enough to save this bid. Whether it's enough to ensure a successful tournament is another question entirely.
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