Posted on July 14, 2006

Fan Fests In The Townships

Maik Grossekathöfer, Spiegel, July 7, 2006

With only four years to go before the kick-off for the 2010 World Cup, South Africa still has a massive amount of preparation to do. Its stadiums are crumbling or unbuilt, security poses a real problem and organizers are way behind schedule. But FIFA is confident that the first World Cup to take place in Africa will still be fine.

On Sunday night, South Africa’s ambassador to Germany, Moses Chikane, plans to throw a colorful bash in a Berlin hotel: “Feel your soul — a celebration of the African Spirit & Heritage.” At the party, Germany will pass the organizing baton to South Africa, which will host the next World Cup in 2010. The Kholwa Brothers will sing a capella and the rhythms of Afro Pop group Freshlyground will spice up the party.

But will anyone turn up? The timing couldn’t be any worse: the party starts at 9 p.m. on Sunday, exactly the moment when France and Italy will begin play of the second half of the World Cup final. The people in charge of organizing the next World Cup say the scheduling mishap is typical of the South Africans. “Often, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is saying,” said Andreas Abold, whose Munich-based marketing firm is currently doing consulting work for 2010 World Cup host city Durban. “The 2010 World Cup is going to be a real challenge for everyone,” he adds.

Global football governing body FIFA’s decision to hold the next World Cup in South Africa was a political one. The organization, which likes to tout itself as a moral superpower, is holding the games there under the slogan “Football for a Better World.” It’s the first time the global spectacle has ever been held in Africa. Four years before the World Cup in Germany, things were so organized that officials even knew what streets to close off before games, but in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, chaos and perplexity are currently the order of the day. “They’re totally behind schedule,” said Delron Buckley, a South African player in Germany’s Bundesliga professional league who just returned from a two-week vacation in his homeland. “They’re neither building nor renovating anything.”

Within the German organizing committee, there is also skepticism about whether South Africa can meet its deadlines. “We’ve received visits from one South African delegation after another, but they just don’t listen,” said one official. “I constantly have to start over from the beginning.”

Germany’s second World Cup?

Many experts are united in thinking that South Africa will be unable to pull off the tournament without tapping Germany’s World Cup organizational wherewithall. “There’s nothing left to do but to send our own people to South Africa,” said Hermann Selbherr, the German Football Association’s (DFB) representative for Africa.

Indeed, it’s a perspective that many South Africans now share. In late June, 12 visitors from the South African province of Mpumalanga spent four days travelling around Germany. They inspected the World Cup stadium in Cologne and the Fan Fest in Dortmund. The region’s premier, Thabang Makwetla, was deeply impressed by what he saw. Then, with a sigh of resignation, he conceded: “The 2010 World Cup will also be Germany’s next World Cup.”

The German Chamber of Commerce in Johannesburg has already created a 2010 working group, and the Goethe Institute, a German cultural organization, has offered to serve as a go-between to connect German and African firms. The problem is that even 12 years after the official end of apartheid, South Africa is still a developing country, some areas lack the infrastructure and the country has never before hosted an event on this scale. “We’re running out of time,” said Zola Doda, an editor at the Cape Town-based soccer magazine Kick Off. “Nobody even knows how many people work for our organizing office. The situation doesn’t look good.”

Of course, the head of South Africa’s organizing committee disputes this. “Let’s just let Germany finish its show,” said Danny Jordaan. “Ours doesn’t really begin until July 10.” Jordaan said he isn’t publicizing the progress that’s been made in his country because he doesn’t want to steal the limelight from Germany’s event. Together with South African President Thabo Mbeki, Jordaan presented the logo for the 2010 World Cup for the first time in Berlin on Friday. But many believe the ceremony will just serve to deflect attention from the real problems.

Deficient stadiums and lacking infrastructure

Originally, the South Africans proposed holding the games in 13 different stadiums. Then that was reduced to 10 arenas, of which five would have to be built from scratch and the rest renovated. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the existing facilities where the matches are to be held were designed for rugby or cricket. Some of these stadiums are ramshackle, with dubious structural stability and zero provisions for providing security. With many of the arenas located in the midst of residential areas, it will also be difficult to create any restricted areas or security zones. In Johannesburg, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Ellis Park Stadium is located just three kilometers from the city center in what locals call a “no-go zone” for white people. In the coastal city of Durban, Absa Stadium, where the matches are to be played, is bordered by ocean waves on one side and railroad tracks on the other.

Preparing adequate stadiums is just one problem. An even greater challenge will be providing logistics for a World Cup that will be spread across the entire country. Organizers believe as many as a half-million people from around the world will visit during the championship. But even if only 150,000 fans come, like in Japan and South Korea in 2002, no one has really addressed how all these people are going to be accommodated. South Africa is three times as big as Germany, but it only has 2,000 kilometers of motorway and only 5,000 kilometers of national roads. Train connections are terrible. But don’t tell FIFA.

FIFA’s virtual reality

For its part, FIFA even seems to have created its own version of reality. In a progress report on the status of preparations for the 2010 World Cup, FIFA inspectors wrote that “city rail networks (metros and light rail trains) are likewise actively used and even enjoy great popularity in some cities.” The problem with that statement is that South Africa has neither subways nor street cars. In this country of extreme socioeconomic contrasts, wealthy whites travel by car and poorer Black South Africans either drive old autos or ride in crowded jitney buses.

A high-speed rail line is currently being built that will connect Johannesburg, its international airport and the South African capital city of Pretoria. Its a billion euro project that some critics say will never turn a profit. Recently, the chief contractor on the railway project said that only part of the line will be ready in time for the World Cup.

It also remains unclear the extent to which white South Africans will identify with the World Cup. More and more are being pushed out of civil service positions and their interest in sports is mostly limited to cricket, rugby and golfing. In their minds, football is a sport for blacks. And with the lowest ticket prices currently set at $20 per seat, the majority of South Africa’s predominantly black population will be priced out of the World Cup. In order to ensure that as many South Africans as possible can enjoy the World Cup, FIFA is planning to replicate the wildly successful Fan Fests that were first tested at this year’s tournament in Germany. Long-time FIFA staffer Heinz Marotzke, the former coach of the Ghana team said he could even envision the Jumbotron screens that have drawn millions in Germany could be set up in South Africa’s townships.

A poorly developed team

It’s also doubtful whether a domestic audience will be able to celebrate as many victories as the South Koreans in 2002 or of Germany’s national team in recent weeks which helped give those tournaments such a magical atmosphere.

The South African team “is a long way from being competitive”, said Ernst Middendorp, the former German Bundesliga coach who has been coaching Johannesburg’s Kaizer Chiefs for the past year. “The federation is a disastrous state.”

The South African side has deteriorated badly in the last 10 years. In 1996 it won the Africa Cup, this year it failed in the first round. The “Bafana Bafana” didn’t come close to qualifying for the World Cup. Now the federation wants to recruit a top-level coach: it would like to get Sven-Goran Eriksson or Guus Hiddinck, but neither of them will come. Portugal’s coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was named but the federation got sceptical when Portugal lost the 2004 European Championship final.

Now Brazil’s coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is the preferred candidate.

Whoever they get, they won’t have much time. Only with a strong South African side could Africa justify its desire for a sixth team in the starting lineup of the 2010 World Cup. With South Africa automatically qualifying as host country, the continental federation wants an additional African team to be allowed into the tournament.

But from a sporting point of view, as this World Cup has shown, there is no reason to add an African team next time around. There’s little prospect of an African world champion in the foreseeable future. Ivory Coast played fast-paced football but failed to beat the experienced Argentinians and Dutch.

The African teams are improving but they still showed their traditional weaknesses: selfish officials, harmless strikers, overwhelmed defenders. Only Ghana made it into the knockout round where they were dispatched by Brazil.

At the subsequent news conference Ghana’s coach Ratomir Dujkovic said: “If God wishes we will meet again in 2010 in South Africa.”

Provided everything is ready in time, that is. The countdown is on, another 1,277 days to the opening match.