So you think we’ve got problems

31 January 2008

With the recent wave of power cuts and state company Eskom’s acknowledgement that we are in for a rough ride, it’s not surprising that, in the minds of many journalists, “the alarm bells are ringing” over South Africa’s ability to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The power crisis is one of numerous issues that will continue to make headlines in the build-up to 2010. So let’s pause for a moment and reflect on some of the hurdles previous World Cup hosts had to face.

The Project 2010 column: Craig Urquhart Argentina staged the 1978 tournament under a military dictatorship. Four years later, tensions between that country and England over the Falklands War threatened to disrupt the tournament in Spain.

Eight months before the 1986 tournament in Mexico, Mexico City was nearly flattened by a massive earthquake which left 100 000 people buried.

The 1990 World Cup in Italy saw the dark side of football played out on centre stage. It generated a record-low goals-per-game average and (at the time) a record 16 red cards, which subsequently saw sweeping changes to the rules of the game.

In 1994, the US had to overcome enormous spectator apathy to set the record for the highest spectator attendance figures in World Cup history.

On the eve of the 1998 tournament, France was hit by a major transport strike. Air France was only able to honour 25% of its flights, affecting all of its short, medium and long haul routes.

2002 saw the logistical nightmare of hosting this mega-tournament in two countries, Japan and South Korea, for the first time. “Never again,” said Fifa.

And the previous hosts, Germany, overcame enormous challenges – including the (very real) threat of terrorism and hooliganism – to stage what was widely regarded as the most successful World Cup so far.

This is not to downplay the challenges South Africa faces in the lead-up to 2010; just to put them in a different light, and so perhaps to calm those jangling bells a bit.

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