It’s Confederations Cup time!

8 June 2009

With days to go before kickoff of the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup, South Africa is gearing up to show the world its first-class infrastructure, big-event organisational know-how, African warmth and hospitality, and outright passion for soccer. Fifa’s “Festival of Continental Champions” might never be same again!

As the national squads of Italy, Spain, Brazil, Egypt and the US start arriving from Monday – Iraq and New Zealand are already in the country – ticket sales for the two-week, eight-nation, 16-match footballing feast are expected to accelerate, with around 70% of available tickets already snapped up.

According to The Times, over 5 000 policemen and a further 3 000 private security guards will be deployed in the four host cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Rustenburg, with four joint operational centres already working 24-hour shifts.

At airports, stadiums and key areas in each city, fans will be directed and assisted by a 4 000-strong team of volunteers, backed up an additional 2 260 ushers and stewards, The Times reports.

Edward Griffiths, former chief executive of SA Rugby, told The Times that while the Confederations Cup had always been a “bridesmaid event” to the World Cup, South Africa “could reinvent this tournament over the next few weeks – the passion, the infrastructure, the spirit are that remarkable.”

And then there are the superstars who’ll be strutting their stuff on South Africa’s pitches – the likes of Kaka, Robinho, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Fabio Cannavaro and Daniele De Rossi, to name a few.

European champions Spain, multiple World Cup winners Brazil and current champions Italy are bringing mostly full-strength squads – and not only to test local conditions ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

The Confederations Cup may have had relatively humble beginnings, but it has become one of Fifa’s most important events, as can be seen from the prize money at stake – US$17.6-million in total.

One of the matches expected to set the tournament alight is the meeting between Italy and Brazil in Pretoria on 21 June. It will take place at the 50 000-seater Loftus Versfeld Stadium, where extensive work has gone into ensuring that the pitch will be of top international quality.

To make extra sure that everything runs smoothly, the city of Tshwane/Pretoria has conducted a number of tests on the stadium and its surrounding infrastructure over the last few weeks.

“We have had a number of dry runs testing both the stadium and the surrounding areas, with our ‘park and walk’ and ‘park and ride’ facilities being used for the Super 14 rugby semi-final and final as well as for the PSL fixture between Santos and Kaizer Chiefs,” says Tshwane/Pretoria 2010 coordinator Godfrey Nkwane.

Similar test runs have been held at Johannesburg’s Coca Cola Park Stadium, which will welcome over 60 000 football fans on Sunday for the tournament’s opening ceremony and opening match, between hosts South Africa and Asian champions Iraq.

As much as the Confederations Cup will test the ability of the country’s national team, Bafana Bafana, to hold their own against the best in the world, it will test South Africa’s hosting abilities ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

And for Paul Bannister, acting chief executive of the International Marketing Council of South Africa, this is where the everyday actions of ordinary South Africans will suddenly take on an added significance.

“It is ordinary South Africans who are pulling off the image we need for 2010 – they have emerged as our major asset,” Bannister told The Times.

According to Bannister, four American Confederations Cup fans were stranded on a city street in Cape Town last week after their luggage was lost at the airport. One local citizen stopped to offer support and advice; another drove them to the Waterfront.

“That’s the kind of thing I believe will be happening on South African streets for the next three weeks, and next year as well,” Bannister told The Times. “The nature of our people will define our competitive difference over the next 13 months.”

SAinfo reporter

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