Independent sportview By Darlington Majonga
EVEN before the mesmeric fiesta of football winds down in Berlin on Sunday with France and Italy meeting in the World Cup final, a yellow card has already been flashed against Africa.
align=justify>Scepticism over South Africa’s capacity to host the next World Cup finals — the first on the continent — reached disconcerting levels this week with reports that Fifa had already made contingent plans to move the 2010 tournament to Australia.
However, Fifa has vehemently refuted the report by the South African Sunday paper Rapport.
The newspaper had claimed the world body had been considering moving the 2010 showpiece from South Africa because of the country’s high levels of crime, inadequate transport and accommodation, widespread HIV infection as well as general lack of readiness.
As expected, politicians in South Africa have been frothing at the mouth over the report that the ruling African National Congress described as “an example of politically-motivated journalism at its worst”.
There’s nothing outrageous about making back-up plans, but it would be appalling duplicity for Fifa to blow the whistle on South Africa after telling us — barely two years ago — that the country was the best among the bidders to host the 2010 tournament.
We have to remember that Fifa in November 2003 dispatched an inspection team to South Africa, headed by Belgian football administrator Jan Peeters, to assess the country’s suitability to host the World Cup.
The inspection team gave a flattering appraisal of South Africa, making us believe the country was capable of hosting an “excellent” World Cup.
With murders, robberies and rape cases dominating South African newspapers every week, it would be futile for anyone to mask the crime rate in the country.
But the inspection team, which was charmed by South Africa’s “friendly, very boisterous” people among the country’s 44 million population, was convinced security would be acceptable after receiving “an excellent, comprehensive work schedule from one of the high commanders of the national police”.
By and large, the Fifa team was impressed — which is probably why South Africa won the right to host the 2010 event.
Bunkum if Fifa awarded the finals to South Africa to make up for the shame when the country was controversially edged out by Germany in the race to host this year’s edition.
No one would want to believe the baloney that South Africa was an inevitable choice simply because Africa was the only continent yet to host the football showcase in its history.
Taking away the World Cup finals from South Africa would be devastating not only to the country but the continent as a whole.
The World Cup is expected to directly inject R21,3 billion into the South African economy as well as create an estimated 160 000 new jobs. For a country with an unemployment rate of 30% and 50% of the population living below the poverty datum line, the World Cup finals would be a boon.
Already, businesspeople, politicians and football authorities in Zimbabwe — shunned by tourists and investors alike — are girding their loins in anticipation of economic spill-offs expected from the finals in South Africa.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority has talked about a tourism package to lure World Cup teams and fans to the country before, during and after the tournament across the Limpopo.
The Zimbabwe Football Association thinks if it lays out synthetic turf at the National Sports Stadium, participating countries in South Africa would consider hiring the facility.
Hoteliers are also rubbing their hands with glee, while politicians hope Zimbabwe’s battered image will be left soothed by the World Cup finals.
Other countries neighbouring South Africa and the rest of the continent are undoubtedly looking forward to the extravaganza as well for their own salvation.
Predictably and conveniently, many on the continent can easily dismiss the doubts over South Africa’s capacity to host the World Cup as steeped in the colonial mentality that it’s beyond Africa’s wherewithal to do anything right.
But if we remain a hostage to such an inferiority complex, Africa might remain subservient to poverty and underdevelopment.
It would be folly for Danny Jordaan, leader of the South African World Cup organising committee, to simply retort to scepticism over the country’s preparedness with fury instead of opening his eyes.
It would simply rank as naivety and idiocy if Africa were to brush aside the pessimism in the usual “colonial mentality” discharge.
The Rapport report — no matter how much we rebut and disparage it — should be taken as a wake-up call to the organisers and Africa as whole.
South Africa will have to accept that the finals in Germany will be used as a benchmark of the successful hosting of the World Cup.
Considering that Germany is a first-world country that had most of the infrastructure in place before the tournament started, we must admit South Africa faces a daunting task.
While Germany already had existing top-class stadia in Berlin, Munich, Hanover, Hamburg, Gelsenkirchen, Dortmund, Leipzig, Cologne, Frankfurt, Kaiserslautern, Nuremberg and Stuttgart — the 12 venues that hosted the 64 World Cup matches — the same cannot be said about South Africa.
If the World Cup were to start today in South Africa, only three stadia — Newlands in Cape Town, Ellis Park in Johannesburg and Durban’s King’s Park — would be suitable.
This means South Africans will have to work their skins off to renovate all the other venues, which should take up about US$115 million of the estimated US$2 billion budget for the tournament.
Renovations to Berlin’s Olympiastadion cost about £165 million, which means South Africa might use more than envisaged.
On the contentious security issue, South Africa will find it hard to stem the poverty-inspired crime in the country.
In Germany they have been worried about hooligans from England and Poland as well as racist attacks, not the violent robberies and rapes that have blighted South Africa’s image.
The best South Africa can do is to inculcate some professionalism and sense of duty in its police force. The law-enforcement agents have to crack down on criminal activities and campaign heavily to assure football fans that they will be safe in the country.
South Africa will have to ensure accommodation is adequate — excluding the proposed tent camps. Although hotel rooms might be adequate for both teams and fans, we believe some of them leave a lot to be desired.
The road network in the country is good. But it will be a big challenge for kombis, some of them driven by people equally challenged by the English language, to offer a reliable form of transportation.
Logistics has to be worked out as well on congestion on the roads and parking at stadia.
Fifa trusts South Africa can do it, and has pledged to help the dream come true.
While President Thabo Mbeki unveils the 2010 World Cup logo at a handover ceremony in Berlin today, we hope the South Africans go beyond the rhetoric that they are ready for the event — and the sooner they realise four years is not a long time the better.
Revelling in the success of the African Nations Cup finals as well as the rugby and cricket world cups South Africa has hosted is one thing, hosting the football World Cup is another.
Let all the negativity surrounding the 2010 finals in South Africa serve as a yellow card, or caution, that the job at hand is not easy.
Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent hoping to cash in on 2010 might do themselves a big favour as well by remembering the tournament is all about world-class standards.