t23 July 2009
One could be forgiven for still feeling apprehensive about the situation in Zimbabwe.
For many years, Africa and the rest of the world has watched its political and economic meltdown, which spilled over into neighbouring states, casting a pall over much of the sub-continent’s progress and, of course, South Africa’s 2010 World Cup preparations.
Nevertheless, by securing the rights to host the quadrennial showpiece of international soccer, South Africa has become a beacon of hope for Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent.
And over the past few months, there have been strong indications that the tide has turned and that Zimbabwe is now gearing itself to play a pivotal role in the 2010 tournament.
For starters, a government of national unity has been formed, a move which has stabilised the economy, curbed post-election violence and given the country’s tourism industry a major boost.
With concerns being raised over accommodation shortages in South Africa, Zimbabwe is now being promoted as a popular alternative.
Victoria Falls, home to the world’s largest waterfall, is re-establishing itself as a luxury and adventure travel destination ahead of the tournament, with plans to attract thousands of tourists.
Several senior Fifa officials are visiting Zimbabwe this week to assess the situation, and Fifa chief Sepp Blatter has reportedly indicated that he plans to visit before the tournament.
Despite the political uncertainty, global football’s governing body has invested heavily in Africa’s former breadbasket. It has funded the installation of an artificial turf in the capital’s Rufaro Stadium, giving the ageing facility a new lease of life.
Could 2010 prove to be the catalyst marking Zimbabwe’s full return to the international fold?
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010