SA has work before 2010

Opinion polls have established that a third of South Africa, already a country plagued by a horrifying rate of rape and murder, could not be ready in time. Every big city has recently been afflicted by power blackouts and telecommunications, so utterly essential to any World Cup, are reportedly in a disastrous state.

Away back in the early 1960s, Chile, devastated by earthquakes, seemed the last country imaginable to be capable of putting on the 1962 World Cup. Their plea was, however, movingly, "We want it because we have nothing."

FIFA heard their cry, allowed them to keep the World Cup and, as one who was there, I have to say they made, in the event, a very good job of it. Though that was in the more enlightened days, when a mere 16 countries contested the World Cup finals. And now, enter South Africa. They seemed dead certainties to be awarded the World Cup for 2006. All that frustrated them was the vote of a splendidly anarchic old New Zealander, who defied his country's instructions, voted against them and ensured that Germany should get the tournament.

With a very clear conscience, I am happy to say that this was a decision which pleased and relived me, since I never thought that England's somewhat clumsy candidature would be successful. And probably didn't deserve to be, since it still seems more than probable that Bert `The Inert' Millichip, as Chairman of the Football Association, had given the Germans to believe that if they backed the English bid for the 1996 European finals, then England would stand aside when it came to the 2006 World Cup.

Meanwhile, let me declare an interest in sub-Saharan football at large. I admire it immensely, the teams and the splendid players who enrich the game around the world. But who can deny that African soccer is a paradigm of sub-Saharan Africa at large — superb human material eternally betrayed by corrupt and incompetent officialdom? The kind of situation which once induced the charitable George Weah, the Liberian star, to subsidise a whole trip to play an international qualifying match because the officials had stolen everything in the kitty.

South Africa, though I am happy to believe that its football authority is the shining exception that proves the rule, is by and large no exception per se. Had they got the 2006 World Cup, can it seriously be believed that even if they had put it on, which one takes leave to doubt, it would have been a shambles? I am no defender of brutal apartheid, but with all its vicious racialism the previous regime in South Africa did leave an infrastructure capable to accommodate the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Though here, comparisons are irrelevant since such a tournament is minuscule by comparison with the exercise in elephantiasis, which the current World Cup finals have become.

I've no objection at all to the World Cup finals going to Africa, provided they go to one of the North African states better equipped to put on such a vastly demanding tournament. But the latest news from South Africa suggests impending disaster if the World Cup goes there in 2010. Let us look at some of the recent facts.

In the first place, opinion polls have established that a third of South Africa, already a country plagued by a horrifying rate of rape and murder, could not be ready in time.

Every big city has recently been afflicted by power blackouts and telecommunications, so utterly essential to any World Cup, are reportedly in a disastrous state. As for the proposed new stadium in Cape Town with a promised capacity of 68,000, which FIFA insists is mandatory, the city's new mayor, Helen Zille, has postponed its construction.

In addition, FIFA insists that contracts be signed by each city involved to ensure special traffic lanes for officials and players, a suspension during the competition of all building work, free office space, plus telephone, internet and communications equipment, with major back-up power grids to safeguard the workings of stadium floodlights, street lights, traffic lights, even hotel lifts. None of which at present can be promised in any South African city.

Quite the contrary is the reality. In decaying Johannesburg, once the thriving metropolis of the country, weeds grow in unmaintained roads, traffic lights in abundance do not work, the roads are overcrowded, and visiting fans would no doubt be delighted to discover that public transport has fallen into abeyance. Lately, there were appealing consequences there of blackouts, causing traffic lights to fail, immense consequent jams, the failure of lines between floors, trapping their unfortunate occupants, dreadful overflow of sewage endangering the water supply, and the loss of colossal sums of money in industry and agriculture.

Far from supply meeting increased demand, not a single power station has been constructed since the African National Congress came to office in 1994.

In the word of an independent consultant on power, "This was an entirely foreseeable crisis. Year by year, government watched demand rise sharply and did nothing. It ignored all warnings." At least we have the assurance, however unconvincing, of a spokesman from Eksom, the state electricity company, who insists that much extra capacity will be in place by 2010. Kenny like other experts dismisses such facile optimism.

"It takes seven to eight years to build a big station from scratch," he insists. "Nothing started now will be ready by 2010." Even Sentech, the state broadcasting company, admits that its equipment is obsolescent. "We are not ready." Their chief executive, Sebilesto Mokone-Matabane, is afraid the transmission system could break down, causing chaos. Over to you, FIFA.