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Searching for it — not quite feeling it — in Polokwane

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- Searching for it — not quite feeling it — in Polokwane The fan fest sounded like a wild party with the vuvuzela horns booming through the empty streets of Polokwane town, one of the smallest of 10 venues for the first World Cup on African soil. Everyone must be there, we thought as there was little going on for a Saturday night in the northern South African town. Even the local Nandos restaurant on the main street shut by 8 p.m. But on closer inspection the soccer fan fest — loud as it was — was also pretty deserted. Soccer fever has yet to reach Polokwane. A sleepy town of just 500,000 people, it was hard to imagine Polokwane, which means place of safety, would host its first World Cup soccer match in less than 24 hours. In Johannesburg or Cape Town you could definitely “feel it”. Here we weren’t so sure. Driving through the town’s eerily deserted streets searching for a restaurant where we could eat and watch the soccer, we discovered that was not an easy find. It was also hard to imagine what long-term benefit the town would see from being a host city. While for the four matches to be played in Polokwane the few hotels on offer for tourists were full, in between there were plenty of rooms at the inn. No team was staying nearby which would bring with it the paraphenalia of adoring fans or news-hungry media and the associated business. Those playing were flown in for pre-match training, again the day of the match and ferried back straight after. Police closed down the roads near the stadium on the edge of town the night before. But those fearing traffic similar to the four-hour long queues witnessed in Johannesburg trying to get to Soocer City need not have bothered. The streets were empty, the car parks empty and — just 30 minutes before kick-off — the stadium was half empty. By the second half, the stands were just about three-quarters full, though the blasts of the vuvuzelas compensated for the missing supporters. The Peter Mokaba stadium almost looked like they hadn’t had time to finish painting it, with the stark grey concrete of the outer wall in direct contrast with Soccer City in Johannesburg’s brightly coloured exterior. The inside was still coated in construction dust and most of the refreshment stands remained shuttered and closed during the match. Just two hours after the players left we found ourselves the lone figures in a dark stadium struggling to see the keyboard as we tapped out the finishing touches to our stories. Even the name of the stadium was controversial. Mokaba was the African National Congress (ANC)’s youth league leader who, like his current counterpart Julius Malema, was fond of the phrase “Kill The Boer,” which upset many Afrikaners. Ironically there’s not even a local soccer team to make use of the sparkling pitch. Residents said the Rai Stars disbanded long ago and the nearby promising Black Leopards team are based more than 150 kilometres away in a less than World Cup standard stadium. <http://www.blackleopardsfc.com/10_stadium_info.htm> The Dynamos train 100 kilometres away. Neither team play in the country’s top league. “You can’t help thinking this huge stadium will just be derelict and empty in a few years time,” said one hotel worker.

Polokwane StadiumThe soccer fan fest sounded like a wild party with the vuvuzela horns booming through the empty streets of Polokwane town, one of the smallest of 10 venues for the first World Cup on African soil.

Everyone must be there, we thought as there was little happening on a Saturday night in the northern South African town centre.

But on closer inspection the soccer fan fest — loud as it was — was also pretty deserted. Soccer fever had yet to reach Polokwane.

A sleepy town of just 500,000 people, it was hard to imagine Polokwane, which means place of safety, would host its first World Cup soccer match in less than 24 hours. In Johannesburg or Cape Town you could definitely “feel it”. Here we weren’t so sure.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Does Angola attack really endanger the World Cup or just Africa’s image?

The bloody attack on Togo's team bus in Angola is a huge tragedy for African football and like it or not, has cast a shadow over the World Cup in South Africa in five months time -- the biggest sports event ever staged on the continent.

It is highly debatable whether the attack, which killed two members of the Togolese delegation as they arrived for the African Nations Cup and forced the squad's evacuation on Sunday, really increases the risk to teams and spectators in South Africa.

Soccer match creates Arab diplomatic rift

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In scenes more akin to a prelude to war than a soccer match, Algeria won Africa’s last place in next year’s World Cup finals in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Wednesday.

With 15,000 extra security men manning the stadium and heavily armed riot police on virtually every street corner for Algeria’s 1-0 win over Egypt, there was little opportunity for major violence.

Flashlights or a blackout-free soccer bonanza?

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South Africa’s power utility Eskom has assured the world it will keep the lights on during the FIFA World Cup next year.

But many wonder if they can trust the assurances after the country’s national grid came to a near standstill last year, forcing mines and smelters to shut and costing the biggest economy in Africa billions of dollars.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Confederations Cup defies pessimists but is World Cup on course?

So, the Confederations Cup is over and much of the pessimistic handringing beforehand proved unfounded.Despite some real logistical problems, the general verdict seems to be that the tournament was a success with enthusiastic and colourful crowds and some classy and unpredictable football, not least the United States' shock semi-final defeat of Spain and a thrilling final where Brazil went 2-0 down to the Americans before storming back to win 3-2 and ensure the football world was not thrown off its axis.Crucially, South Africa's own team, Bafana Bafana, did a lot better than many of their own fans had expected. The side suffered a lot of bad press from their terrible pre-competition form -- they did not even qualify for next year's African Nations Cup finals -- and Brazilian coach Joel Santana had been treated with scepticism by football writers and fans alike. Even Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the organising committee for next year's World Cup, expressed concern over their form. After a slow start, however, South Africa turned in a creditable, if not outstanding performance. They reached the semi-final and held eventual champions Brazil until the 88th minute when they went down to a scorching free kick by Daniel Alves. And in the third place final they pushed European champions Spain into extra time before finally losing 3-2, again to a freekick.They badly need more strike power and it looks like Santana must make peace with English-based striker Benni McCarthy who was dropped from the team for his apparent lack of commitment. But their performance gave grounds for some optimism.Bafana Bafana's Confederations Cup performance was key to the 2010 World Cup because it will encourage local fan participation -- a constant worry for the organisers, who expressed concern before this tournament about lack of home enthusiasm.Nevertheless, there are continuing worries that even the cheapest World Cup tickets are still too expensive for working class South Africans and that they will be unwilling to pay in advance for entrance in a year's time, something which goes directly against the entrenched local custom of buying tickets on match days.World Cup matches attended predominantly by foreign fans and restrained, middle class South Africans would be a huge disappointment for the first World Cup held in Africa, where the unique local atmosphere was a major selling point.That isn't the only worry in considering what the Confederations Cup tells us about the likely success of next year's much bigger global competition.FIFA boss Sepp Blatter gave organisers 7.5 points out of 10 for the Confederations Cup but World Cup veterans said this was nothing to be complacent about, given his likely tendency to talk up the tournament. Even Blatter said South Africa had to do "a little bit more" and FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke was more direct, acknowledging problems with transport, security and accommodation capacity, which is still significantly below what will be required next year.Security is a particularly sensitive issue, given South Africa's frightening reputation for violent crime, so it was unfortunate that the Confederations Cup saw alleged thefts from both Egyptian and Brazilian teams, although some of the circumstances remain mirky.More serious were security lapses in access to stadiums and other areas. Such failures must be cleared up in the time that remains if fans are to follow their teams without constantly looking over their shoulders.So the Confederations Cup provided both encouragement and warnings. Okay so far, but much more to be done. The next 12 months may be both nerve racking and frenetic for the organisers but we are all still hoping for a reasonably trouble-free football extravaganza with the special atmosphere that only Africa can give it--including those pesky vuvuzela trumpets...PHOTO: A South African fan at the June 28 Confederations Cup final REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

How will South Africa handle the World Cup?

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International football body FIFA expects about half a million fans to come to South Africa for the World Cup, which starts a year from now.

The country is experiencing its first recession in 17 years but it is hoped that the
infrastructure being built for the World Cup and the expected influx of tourists will give the economya boost.

Africa? No thanks.

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The pivotal marketing position when South Africa were still bidding for the 2010 World Cup was the assertion it would be a tournament for all of the continent. ‘Africa’s bid’ was the pay-off line used throughout the successful campaign.

Using famous footballing personalities from around the continent, South Africa garnered widespread support with its all-inclusive approach against their Arab rivals in the race to win the right to host the event.

Stumbling block for the Pharaohs?

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Egypt might have won the last two African Nations Cup tournaments but the Pharaohs seem to have hit a stumbling block when it comes to the World Cup.

For all their prowess at the last two continental championships, and their glittering array of successes at club level, Egyptian soccer is becoming increasingly haunted by the spectre of continued failure to make it to biggest footballing showpiece of them all.

Did Dalai Lama ban make sense?

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Organisers have postponed a conference of Nobel peace laureates in South Africa after the government denied a visa to Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who won the prize in 1989 – five years after South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu won his and four years before Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk won theirs for their roles in ending the racist apartheid regime.

Although local media said the visa ban followed pressure from China, an increasingly important investor and trade partner, the government said it had not been influenced by Beijing and that the Dalai Lama’s presence was just not in South Africa’s best interest at the moment.

The dream just got harder

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Two new proposed sets of new footballing legislation would make it even more difficult for Africa’s top soccer talent to achieve their dream of playing in Europe.

The proposed 6+5 regulation that FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been vigorously touting will mean less chance for African players to find lucrative employment with clubs in Europe, where the vastly better pay makes it a destination of choice for so many footballers from this continent.
Blatter wants to ensure more local players feature in domestic football, which over the years in Europe has become blurred by liberal EU labour laws and the mass migration of footballing talent in all directions.
It is 10 years ago, for example, since a club in the English Premier League last fielded an all-English side and, although as a product the premier league has become a world brand because of its world starts, there is a move now to restrict the number of foreigners playing in England and elsewhere.

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