Beware South Africa!

The recent Confederations Cup tournament held in the country made it all too plain what an alarming fiasco will almost certainly be in store during the 2010 World Cup, writes Brian Glanville.

From the outset, I saw South Africa as a wretched and misguided World Cup, not to say Blatteresque, choice. How narrowly it was avoided for 2006 thanks to one elderly New Zealander who, going against his nation’s mandate, abstained in the vote and thereby enabled Germany to get the tournament; and make the expert job of it which might have been expected. No such luck for 2010, alas. The fools of the FIFA committee did indeed this time vote for South Africa, and the r ecent Confederations Cup tournament there made it all too plain what an alarming fiasco will almost certainly be in store.

No, I am not thinking principally of the recent strike by no fewer than 70,000 construction workers, holding out for a 13% rise, and prepared to stay on strike indefinitely. One way and another, that will surely have to be solved by some kind of compromise.

Sterling efforts by two correspondents for ‘The Times’ and the highly expert Keir Radnedge of ‘World Soccer’ magazine were among the lamentably few British journalists sent to the Confederations Cup — while a host of them were sent to Sweden for the highly marginal and for England finally disastrous Under-21 finals — and grim indeed have been their dispatches.

Of course, we knew all too well that South Africa is an alarmingly crime ridden country, whose statistics on murder, rape and robbery tell their own dire tale. But Radnedge in particular sounded a grim warning on what awaits the tens of thousands of fans who will no doubt go there in 2010. By stark contrast with the comparatively few who travelled there for the small scale Confederations Cup. And in all too many instances — not least among the journalists — found what a dangerous place South Africa and its cities can be.

Especially worrying was the cavalier and indifferent attitude of the officials running the tournament. “There are no such things as no go areas,” proclaimed the Deputy Minister for Security, Fikile Mbalula. “But there are high alert areas of which you will be advised.” Beneath the cloud of superficially reassuring words, however, it became all too clear that safety and security were confined to the so called “FIFA perimeter zone” around each stadium. As Radnedge emphasised, what is officially known as “a major breach of security” is deemed to happen only in the case of a so-called “major assault” upon a member of a team delegation! Other such incidents will merely be “unfortunate” or “isolated.”

Well, Radnedge found plenty of those in his brief South African sojourn. Traffic police extorted money — this seems a favourite occupation — from a Reuters correspondent. There was robbery at gunpoint, an attempted kidnapping. And, needless to say, many thefts from players’ hotel rooms. But then, we all know how carelessly footballers abroad tend to leave money in their rooms.

Travelling will always be a hazard. It is deemed unwise to go by train or bus, so how will many fans negotiate the vast distances? Gabriel Marcotti, The Times’ bilingual correspondent, tells of a nightmare four hours drive between Bloemfontein and Johannesburg most of it in a two-lane highway, in utter, unlit darkness. A woman reporter had her bag snatched from her, and so on.

Just how the majority of fans can hope to cover such distances between venues is unfathomable. And given the paucity of hotels, where are they going to stay? It has been suggested that some will be accommodated in private homes. Others, one hears with some astonishment, may be accommodated in Zimbabwe. A country in such a state of chaos, hunger and misery that you wonder how and where.

Owen Slot cast a cold eye on the various stadiums and the evidence of conspicuous waste. Reminding one all too sharply of the manifold white elephants, grandiose building projects as they were, which were left after the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. In Durban, what will happen after the World Cup to the new stadium ludicrously built bang next door to the excellent ASBA Stadium, home of the rugby team, the Natal Sharks? In vain did the deluded city council plead with the Sharks to move to the new stadium, after the World Cup is over. The Sharks pointed out that the very fact that Durban built the new stadium in hopes of using it to stage subsequent Olympic Games, with a consequent running track, meant that the spectators were too far from any potential Rugger field.

In Cape Town, the original plan was to play World Cup games at the excellent Newlands Stadium; but oh, no! Instead, a new stadium has been built in a prosperous area of the city, at Green Point, but please don’t try to get there from the city airport; no public transport between the sites exists. And, ominously perhaps, the road out of the airport en route to the new stadium passes through the shanty town known as the Langa township whose seething population has been estimated at anything between 60,000 and a quarter of a million.

Matches will also be played at Polokwane, but where will supporters stay? A city desperately short of hotels plans to establish a camping site to accommodate 2000 people, in school grounds. But even Blatter himself has stated that, given the cold of the South African winter, camping out is no alternative. The other, so called, solution would be to go to… Zimbabwe, but Zimbabwe is all of a hundred and thirty miles away. Famous, of course, for its hotels!

There can be no doubt that some of the stadia which have already been built are gems of their kind, but the cost has been phenomenal, far outstripping, as seems always to be the case in these over blown international competitions, the original estimates. Thus, Green Point stadium, which, says Slot, should have cost, with its huge, 70,000, capacity, 1.2 billion rands, the equivalent of £93 million, has instead cost 4.5 billion rands. Durban’s new stadium has the same capacity, was estimated to cost 1.6 billion rands but will instead cost 3.1 billion and, as we have seen, need never have been built at all. In the last analysis, you have to blame the sheer irresponsibility of Blatterised FIFA, of a man with an African obsession. In which case, why not Egypt or Morocco? It’s now a daunting prospect.