South Africa’s stadium turnaround

11 February 2010

Flashback to 21 October 2006. The occasion was the last Cape derby between Ajax and Santos – two of the South African Premier Soccer League’s top teams – at the old Green Point stadium in Cape Town.

A crowd of about 250 (yes, 250!) took their places in the dilapidated 18 000-seater multi-purpose venue. The turnstiles were buckled, the sewerage pipes in the bowels of the structure were broken and, not surprisingly, it was a lacklustre affair (for the record, a 1-1 draw).

The Project 2010 column: Craig Urquhart Fast forward to 23 January 2010; the sides met again, just metres away from the nearly demolished Green Point stadium, and the circumstances couldn’t have been more different.

A sell-out crowd of 20 000 wide-eyed Captonians (the capacity was limited for the test run) gathered to watch these teams strut their stuff in the city’s new 2010 Fifa World Cup stadium.

The R4.5-billion structure, wrapped in a façade of woven fibreglass, is quite simply one of the world’s most magnificent stadiums.

The architects say the 68 000-seater facility is designed to reflect the changing moods of the city in varying weather conditions, while its curved roof was built to contain the noise in the residential area. It also boasts special “green” features to ensure optimal water and energy saving.

On the same day, the Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane, Limpopo province – another key 2010 World Cup venue – staged an inaugural four-club tournament to test the readiness of venue and test security, transport to and from the venue, and the playing surface.

The week before that, during a tour of Johannesburg’s Soccer City – the venue for the opening ceremony and final of the World Cup – Argentina’s national team coach, Diego Maradona, was lavish in his praise: “It is a fantastic venue! Congratulations to the people who have made this tournament possible.”

Durban’s Moses Mabhida stadium which has already hosted an international match -Bafana Bafana beat Zimbabwe 3-0 in an international friendly on 27 January – will also stage a magnificent function on 2 March to mark the 100-day countdown to the World Cup.

Every other 2010 stadium is now completed or undergoing final tweaking, well ahead of the 11 June kick-off.

Contrast this to a year ago, when labour disputes, soaring construction costs and rolling power blackouts raised serious concerns about South Africa’s abilities to complete these structures on time.

At the end of the day, the stadium project managers and tens of thousands of construction workers have produced the goods. The next challenge is to fill these venues.

Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010