Mbalula: Never mind the hiccups, Afcon will be a success
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula is confident the Africa Cup of Nations will be a success, despite initial hiccups in the organising of the tournament.
While Mbalula believed the Local Organising Committee (LOC) could have approached issues such as ticketing differently, he was adamant that stadiums would be filled he said.
"I don't draw strength from lamenting the difficulties; we have all observed that things could have been done differently," Mbalula said at a briefing in Pretoria on the state of readiness for the tournament.
"To mobilise South African people for a soccer match, it doesn't take a difficult merger of mobilisation. Tell South Africans the date and the time and where to get the tickets, they will be there."
The LOC had come under scrutiny after reports of poor ticket sales and processing, and a weak marketing campaign ahead of the continental football showpiece.
Mbalula said the arrangements for fans to purchase tickets were over-complicated, as supporters had to buy their tickets in advance, via a specific process.
The ticketing problems had since been cleared up, Mbalula said, and he called on South Africans to get behind the tournament, held for the second time on South African soil.
"We are on track largely, and I am happy with the response we are getting and the mobilisation that we put out there and people responding to the excitement."
However on Wednesday the LOC revealed that only a quarter of the tickets for the tournament matches to be played at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban have been sold.
The city will host six games when South Africa hosts the tournament, which starts over the weekend, including a quarterfinal and semifinal at the 54 000-seater venue.
None of the games are said to be sold out, including Bafana Bafana's final two group matches, the first of which is against Angola next Wednesday, followed by a meeting with Morocco on February 27.
"We haven't yet reached them [all the targets we set]," LOC chairperson Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana said.
"In fact, Moses Mabhida is about 25% [sold at this stage]. So we know we need to redouble our efforts in that [ticket sales] regard. And there's many other cities where we're really not happy," he added.
'Lack of marketing'
The latest sales figures have nonetheless revealed that four-fifths of their targeted 500 000 tickets have been sold, although a large number of those are thought to come from the opening game between South Africa and Cape Verde Islands and the February 10 final.
Both of those will be staged at the 90 000-capacity national stadium in Soweto, better known as Soccer City.
"Of course in terms of the overall sale of tickets, we are past the 400 000 mark as we speak," Nonkonyana explained.
"Our target was at least 500 000 and there's still time to get there, and we're hoping that we can really hit that target by the end of this weekend."
The LOC boss faulted the complicated sales system and a lack of marketing as some of the reasons behind the slow movement of tickets, but was happy that things were fast changing as kick-off to the continental soccer spectacle rapidly approached.
'We're 100% ready'
"One was a question of accessibility, secondly it was the question of vouchers, meaning people had to travel not once, but twice to get that one ticket," he said.
According to Nonkonyana: "We had to address those things so that when you do go to buy a ticket, you do get a ticket. We've had to make it easier. Marketing also has been slow, but we've slowly resolved that as the tournament has drawn closer the efforts have been doubled up."
Nonkonyana, who was speaking in Durban, also insisted that the organisers were now ready and urged support for national coach Gordon Igesund and his under-pressure team.
"We're 100% ready, we're very excited and we're calling on our people to now support us," he added.
"We want to give Bafana Bafana the support they need and propel them from here, the Moses Mabhida Stadium in eThekwini, to progress from the group stages into the quarterfinal and beyond.
"We need to give them that support they need to get that second Afcon crown. We can do it again, but we need that 12th player - which is the fans - to carry them through."
'10 000 temporary jobs'
Mbalula said he believed the tournament would leave a legacy similar to what the country had experienced following the 2010 World Cup.
"The tournament would be viewed across the globe, and the spin-off for that is that tourism would increase, and there would be about 10 000 temporary jobs created," Mbalula said.
"Social cohesion, bringing the nation together among others, is going to be important; inspiring the youth will be the biggest spin-off for the country."
Mbalula said a plan had been put in place to clamp down on match-fixing, but he would not divulge details saying only that referees would be treated in a different way.
Turning his attention to Bafana Bafana, he hoped the team would rise to the occasion when they took to the field in their opening match against Cape Verde in Johannesburg on Saturday.
He said South African supporters tended to judge the team even before the start of the matches and appealed to fans to rather get behind Bafana Bafana.
"Let's give them a chance, let's support the team and let's look where they go," he said. "The boys have been spoken to by more than one person so they understand … let's release them." - Sapa