26 January 2009
The international focus on South Africa’s preparations for the 2010 Fifa World Cup usually intensifies with major events – like the 2010 Preliminary Draw and the Olympic Games – or with key dates.
And so it is with January 26, which marks the 500-day countdown to the start of the quadrennial showpiece of international football. It affords us an opportunity to gauge the progress South Africa has made – as well as the challenges that still lie ahead.
Millions of South Africans, new to staging an event of this magnitude, have helped lay the foundations for the world’s biggest single-code sporting event.
The result is that the skylines of every host city are now dotted with cranes, towering over stadiums and other World Cup-related projects. And the consensus is that most of these projects are well on track to meet their deadlines.
In terms of security, a number of new initiatives have been implemented to ensure that crime and violence do not mar the tournament. These include boosting the ranks of the police, acquiring hi-tech equipment (including helicopters, bomb suits, robots, x-ray machines and crowd-control water cannons) and setting up special courts to deal with offences related to the event.
An entire subcontinent is preparing to play a role in the successful hosting of the event. Already, all of our neighbours have formulated plans to ensure they will be part and parcel of the extravaganza. The spin-offs are enormous, particularly in the tourism sector, which is where most other countries stand to benefit.
On the field, Bafana Bafana are showing real signs of promise (four wins in four international friendlies), and are well positioned to hold their own in this year’s Confederations Cup – a key curtainraiser for 2010.
The biggest hurdle facing South Africa is surely the political climate. The ruling party has split, its leader could still face prosecution, and a general election is looming fast.
Like in 1994, cool heads are needed.
Nevertheless, we are not alone with our social and political problems. Just 500 days before the 2006 World Cup, Germany was dangerously divided – yet that tournament provided the glue that united a nation in a sea of black, yellow and red.
The reality is that South Africa may be on the brink of a 2010-induced revolution, one that could change the country – and the rest of the continent – forever.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010