Soccer City eyes trial run

22 October 2009

The seats at South Africa’s flagship 2010 Fifa World Cup™ stadium have been installed, the pitch grass is turning a luscious green, and the extraordinary facade is complete. Now the venue managers are planning a few trial runs before the official opening, scheduled for February 2010.

Soccer City stadium, located just outside Soweto, Johannesburg, will host the opening and final matches of the 32-nation football tournament. It will also host the opening and closing ceremonies. Five first-round matches, one second-round match and a quarter-final will be played on its pitch.

During a tour of Soccer City on Friday, it was learned that close to 90 000 of the 94 700 seats have been installed. The stadium is looking good, with row upon row of orange seats meticulously laid out in the giant facility.

On the edge of a colossal bowl

Cutting through the sea of orange are 10 lines of black seats, extending from the front row on the lower tier right through to the last row on the upper tier.

Aligned directly with the 10 black lines are 10 vertical slots, positioned in such a way that they point directly to nine other 2010 World Cup host stadiums, as well as the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany, where the 2006 World Cup final was played.

Standing on the upper tier of the three-tier stadium, one has the feeling one is on the edge of a colossal bowl – or a huge calabash, its concept design – and looking into the green base far below. Two rectangular gaps, where giant television screens are still to be installed on the second tier on each side of the eastern and western stands, stare down into the pitch.

Seats in the VIP area on the second tier are still to be installed and will be a different material from the polycarbonate used in the rest of the stadium.

The pitch grass, planted in situ by Ibhola Lethu Consortium, is responding nicely to Johannesburg’s sunny spring weather. Though there are patches where the grass is still to grow, Barry Pollen, director of Stadium Management South Africa, the company that manages Soccer City, said the grass would be ready for the official opening of the stadium in February 2010.

10 000 schoolchildren

“We hope to test the stadium before the official opening by staging a number of events that are not necessarily football-related. In order to test the stadium, we need to get, for example, 10 000 schoolchildren from Soweto, give them tickets and let them use the toilets, kiosks and other concessions that provide food without any game being played.”

A football match would probably be played in February 2010 involving some of the big teams in South Africa, most probably a Soweto derby, he said.

“We will not necessarily want to test the stadium by having a full capacity match – capacity can be 10 percent less of capacity. There may be test matches involving rugby clubs.”

Walking through the labyrinth of passages inside the venue is quite an experience. Most of the suites are still under construction with workers busy with interior design. Some passages are still wet and slippery, but the view of Johannesburg through the gaps in the facade is spectacular.

Outside the stadium, earth-moving equipment is busy levelling the area on the western side; about 6 000 parking bays would be sited here, Pollen explained.

“All in all, the stadium will have space to park 20 000 cars, including the stadium’s underground parking, outside parking and parking at Nasrec Centre.”

‘Pit of fire

The turnstiles area or podium, the “pit of fire” on which the stadium sits, is also taking shape. The pit of fire demarcates the security and turnstile line separating the outer areas and the secure inner areas.

Johannesburg has another match venue as well, making it the main host city for the World Cup. Ellis Park, one of Joburg’s best-known stadiums – it was here that the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 – will host five first-round matches, a second round match and one quarter-final.

There are also several stadiums that are being upgraded to serve as training venues – Orlando, Dobsonville, Rand and Ruimsig stadiums.

The city is putting a great deal into sprucing up ahead of the tournament, boosting public transport with the Rea Vaya bus rapid transit system, improving roads and infrastructure, greening the landscape – even beautifying the city’s road islands.

Source: City of Johannesburg