/ 30 November 2009

SA applies finishing touches to World Cup stadiums

Once a headache for the local organising committee, the 10 South African stadiums for the Soccer World Cup are now set to be ready on time for the football extravaganza.

Stadium construction faced many challenges, including strikes in July when more than 70 000 workers asked for wage hikes, countrywide blackouts in January 2008 that crippled the economy, budget deficits and unpredictable weather.

”It has been a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes we were happy and most times saddened by the criticism and the pessimism but we always knew we would be ready on time,” said local organising committee spokesperson Rich Mkhondo.

Mkhondo said five new and five renovated stadiums were now more than 95% complete and the final touches were being applied, such as security barriers, planting trees, roads leading to the
stadium and parking lot paving.

To win the confidence of the local and international community in advance was not easy as the capacity of South Africa to deliver world-class infrastructure was scrutinised.

The country’s readiness for tournament was also questioned when the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium
in Port Elizabeth, which cost R2,1-billion ($282-million) missed its construction deadline for the Confederations Cup in June.

Greenpoint stadium in Cape Town, one of the semifinal venues, faced fierce opposition from residents, who opposed the development and took the municipality to court.

”We overcame tremendous challenges because in the beginning some residents were opposed to the development [of stadiums] and tried to stop construction through legal process but lost,” Cape Town Soccer World Cup spokesperson Pieter Cronje said.

In Nelspruit, township residents protested outside the stadium, demanding that a school be built. Authorities said construction of a new school would start this week and finish in March.

Soccer City in Johannesburg, venue for the June 11 opening match and the final on July 11, will seat 91 000 spectators and resembles a giant calabash while the Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane is inspired by the Baobab tree.

However, there are questions around the government spending about R10-billion, excluding host city contributions, in a country where poverty affects over 40% of the population.

Mkhondo said all the stadiums had sustainability programmes beyond 2010. – Sapa