/ 17 November 2009

SA preps for spotlight in World Cup draw

South Africa is polishing up for the global spotlight during the Soccer World Cup draw in two weeks, eager to show it’s ready for the games that on November 22 will be 200 days away.

Many of the doubts that once confronted the nation have long since quieted, dispelled by the successful hosting of the Confederations Cup in June.

Gleaming new stadiums have stilled fears of construction delays, with debate already turning on how the nation’s new landmarks will be used after the tournament.

Cape Town, which is hosting the draw, unveiled its new airport terminal this month. Johannesburg’s main airport, the main gateway for an expected 450 000 World Cup fans, has also received a major facelift that smoothed out the customs and immigration process.

Of the 3,1-million World Cup tickets available, nearly 700 000 have already been sold before the draw — roughly half of them to South Africans.

”Everything is ready to go, and we are very excited,” said Rich Mkhondo, spokesperson for the organisers.

But questions remain on security in a nation that suffers 50 killings a day, and on logistics for shuttling fans to smaller venues that don’t have enough hotels.

South Africa has taken pains to ease visitors’ fears over the crime rate, pointing out that major events in the past like the Rugby World Cup and Confederations Cup have gone off without serious incident.

”There’s clearly a distinction to be made between societal crime in the country and event safety and security,” chief organiser Danny Jordaan told Parliament last week.

Police plan to deploy 41 000 officers for the World Cup, and have received training in crowd control from French gendarmes. Intelligence services and even the military are providing back-up if needed.

Johannesburg’s airport, notorious for pilfered luggage, says it has cracked down on baggage handlers and cut the number of thefts from 30 a day to 18.

”Our 2010 target is reduction down to eight bags a day,” of the 25 000 handled each day, Bongani Maseko, operations manager for the Airports Company of South Africa, told Parliament.

Justice minister Jeff Radebe has announced that 54 courts across the country will be dedicated only to crimes committed in connection with the tournament, to move cases quickly through the judicial system.

Security around the venues will undoubtedly be tight. The worry is that visitors exploring the country will fall victim to the crimes that South Africans face every day.

Typical of those fears, the roll-out of Johannesburg’s bus rapid-transit system — a key component of the city’s World Cup transport line — was shaken by a shooting that injured two people, including a policeman.

The new Gautrain rail line connecting Johannesburg’s airport to the city will only begin running three months after the World Cup, developers announced this month.

In smaller cities like Bloemfontein and Nelspruit, which don’t have enough hotel rooms for all the fans expected to attend the games, Mkhondo said airlines are considering special shuttle flights for the matches.

”In places like Bloemfontein, where the airport is small and there are not many airlines going there, there’s going to be special arrangement for people to fly out directly after the game,” he said. – AFP