Vadim Ghirda/AP
USA's Jonathan Spector, left, and Italy's
Vincenzo Iaquinta.

Confederations Cup Offers Sneak Preview of World Cup

June 15, 2009 06:30 PM
by Denis Cummings
The Confederations Cup will provide of glimpse of how South Africa will handle hosting next year’s FIFA World Cup, the first to be hosted in an African nation.

South Africa Prepares for World Cup

When South Africa was chosen in 2004 to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, many doubted whether the country was capable of staging such a large event. Though fears that stadiums would not be ready in time have been silenced, there remain concerns over infrastructure and security, especially in the high-crime areas of Johannesburg.

South Africa’s preparations for the World Cup, set to begin June 11, 2010, are being tested this month with the Confederations Cup, an eight-team tournament of the champions of FIFA’s major international tournaments.

“A Confederations Cup that proceeds without major incident or glaring inefficiencies could encourage more fans from more places to make the trek to South Africa next June,” explains GlobalPost columnist Mark Starr. “However, if this tourney is deemed problematic or second-rate, FIFA and South Africa will have, at the very least, a marketing problem on their hands.”

The tournament kicked off Sunday with the host South African team, known as the Bafana Bafana, drawing 0-0 against Asian champion Iraq in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park. The Times (South Africa) hailed the game as a “near-flawless opening” that “laid to rest” concerns about hosting the World Cup.

There have been some problems, though. The pitch at Ellis Park, which recently held a rugby game, was torn up and unsuitable for a major international game. The South Africa game failed to sell-out and the crowd for the second game filled only a third of the stadium. There was also some lack of organization, with the BBC reporting on problems with the “park and ride” plans, and the Times reporting that “some volunteers and security staff appeared as baffled as the fans.”

These problems are fixable and cast little doubt on preparations for the World Cup. Thus far, there have been no security problems, a reassuring sign for World Cup organizers. “The bad news that we were seeing back home are not really that true,” said Brazilian star Kaka, according to The Associated Press. “In a year I believe that South Africa will be prepared to host the World Cup.”

The biggest problems exhibited at the Confederations Cup are those that are out of organizers’ hands. There has been “frigid conditions and unseasonal rain,” which have interfered with teams’ preparations, reports Reuters. The weather has helped to dispel the myth that the World Cup will likely be played in intense heat, as the weather during the winter months of June and July is typically mild.

There is also concern over the play of Bafana Bafana, who automatically qualify for the World Cup as hosts, but have not played well for several years. They will have to improve to have a chance of advancing to the second round of the World Cup, a goal set by fans and media.

They looked inept in their opening match against Iraq, increasing the pressure on the team and coach Joel Santana. “National optimism, bountiful before Sunday, has already grown circumspect,” writes The New York Times, which talked to former Bafana captain Lucas Radebe. “At this time, I don’t think the team is ready for the challenge ahead,” he said.

Background: South Africa’s World Cup preparations

Intent on holding a World Cup in Africa for the first time, FIFA elected South Africa as 2010 hosts in a close vote over Morocco. The country was chosen over its competitors for its superior infrastructure and its success in holding other major events, such as the Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup and African Cup of Nations.

“We’ve hosted 146 major events in the country and not a single incident,” said Danny Jordaan, head of the South African Organizing Committee, according to VOA. “So, this country’s track record around staging and managing safe events is equal [second] to none in the world.”

There have been many doubters who believe that South Africa isn’t capable of hosting the tournament because of its high crime rates and subpar infrastructure compared to past hosts. There were rumors that the tournament would be moved out of the country, but it is now certain that it will remain in South Africa.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has constantly defended South Africa’s ability to stage the event. He recently lashed out at critics, according to Reuters, saying, “But ever since I opened the envelope with the name ‘South Africa’ they said it would not work. Why? Every year 10 or 11 million tourists come to South Africa. They have organised international competitions and conferences. Why the hell is there always this question mark over football?”

To address security, the South African police is recruiting and training 51,000 additional police officers and reservists, according to VOA. The police are also receiving training from foreign police more familiar with crowd control at soccer games.

Opinion: Effect of the World Cup on South Africa

The World Cup could have a widespread political and cultural effect on South Africa. The 1995 Rugby World Cup, held just a year after Nelson Mandela was elected present in the country’s first multi-racial democratic elections, helped unify the country as Mandela—wearing a South Africa jersey—presented the championship trophy to South Africa’s white captain.

Jordaan says that the World Cup will give the world a look at South Africa two decades after the end of apartheid. He told the Guardian, “For too long this country has had just one icon, Nelson Mandela. … But what else will keep this country under discussion, whether people want to invest or trade or tour? What other things do they say about the country? … We want to keep the focus of attention on the country and keep it at the top of the mind of the world: to discuss us, to talk about us, to write about us.”

The World Cup could also have a positive effect of Africa as a whole. A successful World Cup “could change perceptions about the whole continent and show the globe a festival of sport that reverses obstinate stereotypes of a region in constant crisis and violence,” writes Reuters’ Barry Moody.

Reference: 2009 Confederation Cup


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