In exactly a year’s time one of the greatest sporting events in the world will take place for the first time on African soil. The long-awaited 2010 Fifa World Cup kicks off on 11 June 2010.
But before then the country will see another football spectacle in the form of the Confederations Cup, viewed as the forerunner to the World Cup, and the chance to test security strategies, health services, and infrastructure.
The tournament, which features eight top teams including the winners of each of Fifa’s six football confederations, the world champions Italy and hosts South Africa, runs from 14 to 28 June 2009.
With a massive US$17.6-million (R142-million) in total up for grabs, of which the largest stake is the $3.25-million (R26-million) for the winner and the smallest cut $1.4-million (R11.3-million) for each of the four last-placed teams, the Confederations Cup is a prestigious event in its own right.
South Africa has spent billions on renovating stadiums, improving transport, including airports and new bus rapid transport systems, and upgrading telecommunications.
The country is in the process of rolling out its digital broadcasting infrastructure, which will see all 64 games of the World Cup broadcast in high definition to selected networks around the world.
President Jacob Zuma, in his maiden State of the Nation address on 3 June, declared that all preparations were on track for a wonderful sporting event that would leave lasting benefits not just for the host country, but for the southern African region and all of Africa.
“We have, as government and the nation at large, pledged that the World Cup will leave a proud legacy from which our children and our communities will benefit for many years to come,” he said.
Stadiums will be ready
All ten venues are in advanced stages of construction, with half that number already complete.
One of them, the Nelson Mandela multi-purpose stadium in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape province, was unveiled this week ahead of the Confederations Cup.
The stadium is the first newly-built stadium to be officially opened and will shortly be put through its paces with an international rugby match on 16 June between the British and Irish Lions, touring the country at the moment, and the invitational Southern Kings team.
Both Fifa and the Union of European Football (Uefa) have expressed great satisfaction at the progress, in terms of physical preparations and ticket sales.
Over 1.8-million applications from over 200 countries were received, of which just over half a million were allocated. While 44% of the applications came from South Africa, the majority that arrived from overseas indicates that football fans around the world are already planning their South African trip in June 2010.
The second phase of ticket sales is currently underway and will run until 16 November 2009, or until the 100 000 available tickets have been snapped up.
Former English Football Association chair Geoff Thompson described the stadiums as “superb”.
“To have a World Cup in Africa is something many of us have dreamed of for years,” he said at a Uefa gathering in Denmark in March, “and without a doubt entrusting South Africa with the 2010 Fifa World Cup has been well placed.”
The remaining five stadiums will all be complete by the end of 2009.
Public opinion is running high and excitement and confidence is mounting amongst South Africans. A market research campaign commissioned by Fifa in January revealed that three-quarters of South Africans polled believed that the country will be ready and that the event would be a success.
The survey, conducted by German research company SPORT+MARKT, also proved that a whopping 88% of South Africans are proud to be hosting the World Cup, and that three out of four believed that the tournament would further unite South Africans as a nation.
It has taken five years for public sentiment to reach these levels, Back in 2004 when Fifa president Sepp Blatter made the announcement that the World Cup would travel to Africa, there was more a sense of trepidation than excitement. However, the January survey showed that 77% of respondents now feel more confident about the success of the tournament than they did in 2004.
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