Sunday, May 10, 2009

FIFA World Cup 2010 Omnibus Post Part II

I submitted the following piece to the South African Sunday Times for publication in 2006, just after returning from FIFA 2006 in Germany. At the time, the tenor of the writing notwithstanding, I was optimistic about 2010. As reflected in my writings from this year, almost 3 years later, my optimism has been fading ...

South Africa Will Host 2010

Every 10 years or so I attend a major sporting event.

In 1974, as a cub reporter, it was the (FIFA) World Cup in Germany.

1984 found me in Los Angeles in time for the Olympics.

Still in L.A. for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

And, now, in 2006, I have just returned from an unintentional visit to the FIFA World Cup in Germany.

I actually went to a pre Wimbledon tennis tournament and a football match broke out.

In fact, football broke out all over Germany, all over Europe and reached the furthest reaches of the globe. O.K., maybe the South Africa’s own Platteland shrugged it off, but they were among the few hold outs.

Association football in its incarnation as the FIFA World Cup has grown exponentially since my first World Cup, back in 1974.

Germany had futuristic stadia back then and highly developed transportation links. There were plenty of fans, too.

But in 2006, there were significantly more teams participating. And whereas few fans would have traveled back in 1974 from the Far East and fewer were even allowed to travel from eastern Europe, the whole world has just finished a month of revelry in Germany.

I don’t think there was any doubt that the Germans knew how to throw a party for the world but they surely surpassed everyone’s expectations with this bash. Instead of a few thousand hard core fans from each country, the average fan contingent had to have been 50,000. England reportedly had 100,000 at any one time. Even minnows like Trinidad and Tobago seemed to have mobilised every last expatriate to show up to support their socca warriors.

No, there were not enough tickets for all the fans. Everyone knew in advance this would be the case. So the hosts decided to invite everyone anyway and make them feel welcome, irrespective of their attending an actual football match. In the center of every World Cup hosting city and outside the stadia themselves, there were giant screens set up, part of “fan zones”. Berlin had its fan mile stretching from the Brandenburg Gate. I went to the Sweden vs. Trinidad and Tobago match in Dortmund and had a marvelous time but never saw the inside of the stadium.

The Germans took the approach of treating fans with dignity and making them comfortable. Their approach surely paid off. 2006 was the year that football became respectable.

Now treating fans with respect entails rather more than just providing big screen matches and rock concerts. I was astounded that the organizers had laid an actual heavy duty red carpet all the way from the centre of Dortmund a distance of some kilometers to the stadium complex, indicating the way for those who preferred to walk to the match rather take the ubiquitous U bahn.

Of course, an integral part of the complex and sharing transportation links to the city was the convention centre, transformed into “Fan Camp”, providing indoor camping accommodation at a reasonable cost.

Reasonable is the keyword here. There surely was a vast conspiracy in Germany to avoid the taint of price gouging. Merchants charged their usual prices. Full stop. I stayed an hour’s drive from both the Dortmund and Hanover sites and the hotel was still charging its usual 300 rand per person for bed and scrumptious breakfast.

But going hand in hand with need for gracious hospitality was the overarching need for security.

It is not enough just to have a security blanket for the VIPs, the press and the teams. There was security everywhere to protect everyone. There was no shortage of visible security as well as massive pre-positioning of security personnel in case of incident. German borders were secured, every car checked at even small land crossings from such “friendly” neighbours as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria.

Now it will be South Africa’s turn in 2010 turn to host the world.

Or will it?

South Africa has to look long and hard in the mirror and decide whether it wishes to host only 100,000 core visitors from FIFA, the 32 teams and the world’s media in 2010 and leave a million of the world’s soccer fans literally and figuratively out in the cold.

This is a question for the country as a whole, not just for the flailing organising committee.

Let’s start at the beginning : South Africa does not have anywhere near the amount of “lift”, airplanes to carry passengers to and from and within the country that will be required. The already congested Johannesburg International Airport will have to shed some of the burden onto Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Government transportation officials need to enter bilateral talks now with their counterparts in the world’s aviation hubs. Airlines must be convinced that significantly more South Africans will travel abroad during this period to avoid airplanes flying full in one direction and largely empty in the other.

Once on the ground, can South Africa provide the infrastructure to welcome its guests?
Are there adequate plans for passenger handling from sufficient immigration and customs officials to adequate ground transportation.

Much is being made of the readiness of Gautrain, but the reality is that car rentals and motorcoach transportation will be the mainstays of transportation during the World Cup.

Government must provide incentives for the huge rental car fleets that will be required for visitors and then sold into the marketplace after the event. Similarly, fleets of new buses must be ordered and a plan for their continued use.

Ways must be found to combat the potential gridlock on urban highways. Relatively easy and quick to implement would be a Park and Ride system for each center that could be transformed into a commuter transportation hub after the Cup.

Much has already been written about the shortfall in hotel rooms. Even the economic miracle of a doubling in hotel accommodation would not even begin to address the problem. But solutions are at hand.

There will be a significant number of private house lettings besides an increase in guest house accommodation. That old mainstay of the South African holiday experience, camping, will not be an attractive option during mid winter.

What will work would be the conversion of schools and their hostels into “fan camps” and a chance for those institutions to raise desperately needed funds.

It will be utterly essential that the Ministry of Education announce as far in advance as possible that all schools and tertiary education take their winter break to coincide with the FIFA World Cup, at least until the quarter final stages, at which time most of the fans and press drift home.

This will free up emergency accommodation for those unable to find conventional overnight accommodation, reduce traffic and most importantly allow South Africans to go on holiday and let out their homes, if they so wish. Industry must be encouraged to shut down to reduce power consumption and to further reduce the nation’s traffic.

Similar ideas enabled Los Angeles to avoid gridlock in 1984.

Finally, the elephant in our collective living space : security.

It will not be just FIFA delegations checking on South Africa’s progress towards 2010. It will be each national delegation, individually and collectively monitoring security. Certain nations carry clout with FIFA and if they say move the World Cup, FIFA’s hand will be forced. Images of rampaging security guards on strike do not lend confidence, nor do military style police shoot outs. Even if the government belatedly goes to war on crime and wins an unexpected but desperately hoped for victory, continuing security will be the order of the day.

The nation’s borders must be secured. A zero tolerance policy for undocumented immigrants and for those present through fraudulent circumstances. South Africa does need to know who lives on every street.

The private security industry needs upgrading, such upgrading must lead to higher wages.
It is time for the government to recognize the asset it has in private contractors working in the Middle East; make it easy for these highly trained individuals to come home, repatriate funds and be trainers for a new security apparatus.

This is not to forget the hard put upon SAPS and other vital public sector workers. Now is the time to maintain their confidence in the system by assuring them of bonus pay during the tournament period. Don’t make the 2010 FIFA World Cup a tough pill for your most trusted to swallow as they see the rest of society profiting while they shoulder the major part of the burden.

The World wants to visit South Africa. South Africa wants to welcome to world.

Let’s get together!

Robbie Fields is a retired American record producer who frequently visits his home in South Africa.

10 May 2009

Now for some good news or maybe not so good news : the visit of the British and Irish Lions rugby team on 16 June 2009 is slated to be the opening for the new stadium in Port Elizabeth. A sell out crowd would be expected ... the problem is that tickets sales have been delayed. Even if the stadium is not ready ... as FIFA decided it would not be in time for the Confeds Cup, that still leaves a year to finish the almost completed stadium. But it sure would be nice to see the stadium fully operational before the first FIFA 2010 match.

More Good News ...

I know London, I grew up there. The only surprising thing here is that this teenaged gang only drew the attention of the police once muggings in Wandsworth had risen by 15%. Think about it : the gang was charged with 56 street muggings of women but it is guessed they were responsible for over 170 that took place over a period of a few months. One wonders what happened to the fabric of English society that no menfolk were available to take on the gang. Anyway muggings are back down to just 85% of the peak number in the London borough of Wandsworth.

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