South Africa readies to host soccer WC

The coastal city of Durban on Monday basked in the success of a glitzy preliminary draw for the 2010 World Cup.

updated: November 27, 2007 16:41 IST
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The coastal city of Durban on Monday basked in the success of a glitzy preliminary draw for the 2010 World Cup, with organizers saying the event showed the world that South Africa is ready and able to host the soccer showcase.

The only cloud over the weekend festivities, attended by some 3,000 soccer dignitaries and journalists, was the fatal shooting of a former Austrian soccer player at a golf course outside Durban.

But police insisted that the man, identified as Peter Burgstaller, was not related to the draw.

"Everything ran as planned. We are very satisfied," said 2010 security spokesman, Supt. Vish Naidoo.

"It definitely paves the way for the 2010 soccer World Cup and should create a significant degree of reassurance in the hearts and minds of those planning to visit South Africa pre-tournament, for the World Cup itself and after," he said on Monday.

The focus has shifted to Johannesburg for a Soccerex business exhibition expected to attract about 5,000 delegates including representatives of big league clubs and commercial sponsors.

A heavy security blanket was wrapped around Durban all weekend, with entire streets cordoned off, security cameras positioned at strategic points, and very visible police patrols on the long golden beach-front, which is normally a favorite hangout of muggers.

Rampant crime in a country with more than 50 murders a day is regarded as one of the main obstacles to South Africa hosting a successful World Cup.

"We won't be able to move so freely as we are used to at World Cup finals," commented German team manager Oliver Bierhoff, whose briefcase was stolen during breakfast at his hotel - the only other noteworthy security incident of the weekend.

At the same time, the unexpectedly peaceful face of South African soccer was in evidence at a derby between Soweto giants Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates - moved 500 kilometers (311 miles) to Durban to coincide with the draw.

Rival fans mixed with each other on the terraces, singing, dancing and blowing plastic horns in a display of harmony rarely seen in Europe or South America.

"We will make excellent World Cup hosts. Just feel the noise and the excitement," grinned garage manager Eugene Ohamu.

Nearby, a Pirates fan wore a helmet proclaiming "Happy People Till We Die."

Organizers sought to soothe concerns about transport problems with fleets of hired minibuses driven by teachers and businessmen, and dozens of other volunteers, all clad in orange T-shirts.

But friendly efficiency could not mask the fact that South Africa lacks a modern mass transport system like other World Cup hosts and will be hard pressed to cope with the 450,000 visitors expected to flood into the country.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Sunday that participating teams should rotate between cities in their first round matches, creating a headache for organizers who initially envisaged that the teams - and hence their fans - would stay put.

Blatter was greeted with cheers and Zulu songs when he visited Durban's new stadium - after a two-week long strike was ended thanks to promises of wage hikes and hefty bonuses.

Despite the stoppage, the Moses Madhiba Stadium remains well ahead of schedule and city authorities are confident that it will not turn out to be a costly white elephant with plans to downscale the seating capacity.

They also plan to convert part of the venue into office accommodation after 2010 - and to upscale it in the event of a future Olympics bid.

But there are continuing concerns over delays in Cape Town - scheduled to host the other World Cup semifinal - and Port Elizabeth, not least because badly paid construction workers have now learnt to flex their muscles with strikes.

Organizing chief Danny Jordaan told a small group of journalists that 14,000 new jobs had already been created in stadium construction alone.

Authorities are hoping that a 2010-related boom will help make a dent in the country's chronic unemployment of nearly 30 percent and attract foreign investment.

President Thabo Mbeki told the draw ceremony, which included Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour and performers from the Lion King musical, that South Africa wanted to stage an event that will send ripples of confidence from Cape to Cairo.