Thursday, May 14, 2009

S. AFRICAN GAMES FACE CRUCIAL TEST.

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News, at Soccerex, Wembley

Fernando Torres of Spain
Some of the game's biggest stars will be visiting ahead of the World Cup.

South Africa's sporting and business infrastructure is facing a "crucial 30 days" which will help determine the success of next year's football World Cup, which is being held in an African country for the first time.

The country has just one month to get everything ready before Fifa's Confederations Cup - traditionally the dry run for the big world soccer jamboree 12 months later - gets under way on 14 June.

Among the national teams competing will be Brazil, Spain and Italy, as well as hosts South Africa.

"The next 30 days will be very important, a huge test for us," Ivor Hoff, chief director of sport for Gauteng Province, which will host the World Cup final in just over a year from now, told the BBC.

"The Confederations Cup will test our state of readiness for the World Cup, so it is important that we get as much as possible right this time round.

"It will be our dress rehearsal for 2010, so we have to make sure we get as much right as we can."


Gauteng Province - centred on Johannesburg and Pretoria - is the smallest of the nine regions in South Africa but it is the economic powerhouse of the country.

Perhaps it is for that reason - its GDP accounts for about one-third of the country's economic output - that it is the focus of both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup.

Half of the Confederations Cup is being held in Gauteng, with games at Ellis Park in Johannesburg and at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria.

"The opening and closing of the event will also be held at Ellis Park," adds Mr Hoff.

"Our state is also hosting 30% of the World Cup in 2010, as well as being a base to the major [sporting] organisations."

Gauteng will be the base for the South Africa's Local Organising Committee 2010, the South African Football Association, Fifa headquarters, and the International Broadcast Centre for World Cup 2010.

The state is home to three of the match venues for World Cup 2010, and will stage 21 games, including the opening ceremony and the final.

In addition, it will be the main point of entry for international arrivals and will act as the gateway in South Africa for the distribution of fans across the country.

"The Confederations Cup gives us the chance to test the stadiums to make sure they meet requirements for next year," says Mr Hoff.

Youths at Orlando Pirates stadium in Soweto
South Africa wants to see its people benefit from the World Cup.

"It will also allow us to test different logistics infrastructure, transport, and gives us a chance to test our entry points into the country, particularly at Oliver Tambo International Airport, and protocols around immigration issues," he adds.

But the state, and the national government, is not holding the World Cup merely to boost its international prestige, although that would be an additional benefit.

"We want to use the World Cup as a lever to promote economic growth and investment," declares Mr Hoff.

"Our key [economic] challenge is to ensure our people and our communities derive the benefits from the World Cup.

"The major infrastructure projects around the World Cup have allowed companies to employ the necessary people.

"Things like new stadiums, roads, transport systems and broadcasting developments will leave a lasting infrastructure legacy to the benefit of the country."

One indicator of this is a new rail service called Gautrain, which will be partly completed by next year, but should benefit the whole of the state region by 2014 when it links Johannesburg to Pretoria.

And Mr Hoff says there will be other lasting benefits.



"Obviously the tourism and services sector will benefit massively from the World Cup, which should also enable a growth in workplace training for people," he said.

In addition, the proliferation of new stadiums will allow South Africa to host major sporting events in future.

"It will allow us to show we have the capacity and are at a state of readiness to host major events," says Mr Hoff.

And he says that said that despite a recent change in the Gauteng regional political leadership, which saw the province's sports minister and her deputy replaced, South Africa - which has also experienced a change in national leadership - is still focused on the tasks in hand.

"We have recently staged the Indian Premier League cricket at short notice and our elections, featuring 17 million people, were held in two days and without incident," he says.

"We are very confident that South Africa can host the World Cup successfully. The Confederations Cup will give us the necessary understating of our strengths and weaknesses.

"It is a huge project but we will be ready. And making sure we have a successful competition can help make sure we are ready for 2010.

"That is why using the next 30 days as well as we can before the Confederations Cup begins is so important."

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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