Jonathan Swindlehurst witnessed the 2009 Confederations Cup first-hand, whilst working at the event. As a writer for Football Italiano’s newly-launched sister site
A Different League, he provides an insight into what worked and what didn’t for the 2010 World Cup hosts in their dress rehearsal.
The world’s gaze has been firmly focused on South Africa since Sepp Blatter announced the host for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Following such a successful event in Germany in 2006, not simply in football terms but in respect of the infrastructure within the country, an extremity of issues such as stadium completion and safety have never been far from the surface of discussions concerning the latest host nation. As a result, never before has such focus been made and pressure put on a Confederations Cup than prior to the 2009 event which provided South Africa the perfect opportunity to hit back against the doubters and allay any concerns the world media may have.
One issue and perhaps the biggest of them all, stadium completion, will not have been put to rest following the Confederations Cup. In fact the only new stadium which was scheduled to the utilised for the event was that at Port Elizabeth and this was removed prior to the event due to incompletion. By all accounts it will be ready for the big event, as will Soccer City in Johannesburg but even so, it will continue to rumble on unitl the first matches kick off in those stadia.
The issue of the new stadia is an important one, but it has distracted from further problems that may be encountered with current stadia such as Ellis Park and Loftus Versfeld – both traditionally rugby stadiums. Both were used extensively during the 2009 Confederations Cup, Loftus hosting three matches, including Match 11 which pitted world champions Italy against Brazil. Ellis hosted a total of five matches, including the opening and final and also Bafana Bafana versus Brazil in the semi-final. This was a real test of organisation with differing results. Ellis Park coped extremely well with the demand and despite a few issues such as removal of seats without notification, incorrect seat numbering due to the changes following the site inspections and poor choices of seat – issues that can otherwise affect matches – the games at the venue went ahead without much of a hitch.
It was another story in Pretoria. Loftus Versfeld is an old and antiquated stadium but this is not the problem – after all, the Olympic Stadium in Berlin proved such a magnificent and fitting arena for a World Cup final. The problems with Loftus Versfeld stem purely from an organisational perspective. The signage for block, row and seat details was nonexistent which proved a real problem for the first real full house and sell out of the tournament, Match 11. Stewarding (the stewards were present at this match having been on strike for the previous two matches here) and assistance of on-site ticketing personnel was needed in abundance to ensure that all spectators were in their seats just prior to half-time. In a match pitting two great sides head-to-head this was far too late. For all the games at the stadium, gates that did not exist were required from a ticketing perspective for spectator entry and people were allowed to enter at completely the wrong gate for their block. This caused significant flow problems during the games as spectators were shepherded around the outside of the pitch to their seats – this caused many people to miss the kick-off for Match 7, the second match in Pretoria. Five World Cup matches will be held here and lessons will have to be learnt in order to cater for the world wide traveling support which will descend upon this venue.
The FIFA World Cup sells itself as an event, the opportunity to watch the sport’s greatest players on the world stage is something that people would give anything for – the Confederations Cup on the other hand is a different beast. People need to be made aware of the event and a full promotion programme needs to be undertaken. This is something that was lacking from the Local Organising Committee (LOC) with an example of the lack of promotion seen (or rather not seen) in and around Nelson Mandela square in Johannesburg. This is a key destination for tourists as the best hotels in the city are all found in and around the area. It was also the location for the FIFA Headquarters for the entire event, and will be again for the World Cup. It was to host Jo’burg fashion week following the Confederations Cup and whilst Fashion week was promoted within the square during the Confederations Cup, there was no mention of the football for the first week-and-a-half of the tournament. Prior to the final a large countdown clock for the World Cup was erected but did not work , and a five- a-side pitch appeared in the middle of the square. This was too little too late and a sad reflection of the current host’s mindset.
Another poor organisational decision from the LOC was to use Rustenburg as one of the venues for the event. This is a very small town and only has a stadium, the Royal Bafokeng stadium, due to it being bankrolled by the King of Bafokeng. It is in close proximity to Sun City where you can find the best hotels and Casinos in all of South Africa and so will be a good choice for the World Cup as it can cater for and perfectly accommodate a mass of tourists. The issue with the Confederations Cup is that an extremely small amount of supporters traveled from outside the host country with matches attended mainly by locals. There were no real locals in Rustenburg to attend matches at the Royal Bafokeng stadium and this reflected badly upon the event as early as Match 2, where the then number one ranked team in the world, Spain played their opening game in front of an almost empty stadium. This proved to be in sharp contrast to the mass scenes of jubilation amongst the people of South Africa following the announcement of host nation. Football is more of a working class sport in the country as opposed to rugby and the nation has never experienced such worldwide attention on football. Rustenburg was the exception and did not look good from a television perspective with most of the other grounds close to full capacity.
However, there was a variety of issues happening in and around the grounds which won’t have been picked up by the TV cameras. From a ticketing and safety perspective there were a good few issues encountered with South African supporters not mirroring their European counterparts in expected behaviour at large football grounds. Fans were extremely reluctant to sit in the correctly allocated seats – for home matches of Orlando Pirates and Kaiser Chiefs at Ellis Park fans are able to sit wherever they please and it was an issue trying to re-educate the fans which at one point turned unsavoury with the police having to escort supporters from the stadium simply for refusing to move from their incorrect seats. All Ticket Clearing Points (TCP’s) located just outside the stadium perimeter encountered substantial problems with families trying to enter the stadium without tickets for children who were simply expected to sit on their parent’s laps, leading to many people not gaining access to the stadium. There was also no rush to access seats within the stadium any time prior to kick-off, with most people in fact locating their seats 10 to even 15 minutes into the match causing significant problems for ticketing staff. These attitudes will really need to be changed before the World Cup and the only way to do that is through to an extensive education and information programme from the LOC.
Beyond the fans’ preference of when to arrive for matches, another reason for being late into the ground late may be due to the problems with access to the stadiums. There were substantial issues surrounding the park and ride in Jo’burg for Ellis Park and the location of the stadium in and amongst some of the most poor neighbourhoods does not make it ideal for the traveling support that will hit the areas on mass for the World Cup. Safety will be of paramount concern for all fans and although there were no real issues during the Confederations there was not the level of traveling support that will become real targets during the World Cup.
One of the real successes of the 2006 FIFA World Cup centred around fans being encouraged to go out to the local bars and restaurants, specifically the fanfests located in all host cities and all the activities in and around the grounds for all fans and visitors. There was no indication that either the LOC or the local government are planning anything of the sort for the World Cup as there was limited entertainment during the Confeds. There will have to be a strong emphasis during the World Cup on the tour operators arranging the trip and tickets to games to accommodate all the entertainment for fan groups in safe areas. In this writer’s opinion, this will mainly be located in and around Cape Town with some fans even flying to the other venues. This may ensure safety for visitors and a variety of different entertainment such as safaris but it will certainly not encourage integration with people from all over the world, something that the World Cup should be about – something which was so much a part of the success of the 2006 event. This is one of the biggest problems for the World Cup being hosted in South Africa with the Confederations Cup giving no indication of FIFA intending to promote fan integration during the tournament next year.
For all the issues raised from hosting the 2009 Confederations Cup what may not have been that apparent during the event in South Africa from an operational perspective was the undoubted success of the tournament. Some of the biggest players in the world were watched for the first time by the South African public, attendances were some of the highest in history of the Confederations Cup and for the first worldwide football event to be held on African soil the problems that were encountered will not overshadow the feeling of success surrounding the country. The local fans did themselves proud – there was a constant party atmosphere in the stands which was accompanied by the beating of drums and the blowing of vuvuzelas. This may have not provided the best sound when televised and in fact did receive some complaints from the Spanish players but it provided the world with a snapshot of South African football fans, something which was much championed by FIFA President Blatter. The fans may not necessarily fit into the traditional behavioural patterns of their European counterparts, but the rawness and enjoyment for the game must be commemorated by the worldwide audience.
The reasons for the Confederations Cup are not purely from the footballing aspect – it is there to iron out any potential problems that may be encountered prior to the event from a purely operational perspective. There may have been problems encountered during this event but it was much of the same in Germany in 2005. Due to the host nation, the 2010 FIFA World Cup may certainly provide a very different World Cup atmosphere than previous World Cups and should the potential problems be rectified in the coming year there is no reason why this cannot be an extremely successful World Cup.