Saturday, July 19, 2008 ESPNsoccernet: July 23, 3:10 PM UK
Can Africa really host the World Cup?
With the news that FIFA president Sepp Blatter has contacted three countries as alternative hosts for the 2010 World Cup, it seems that the continent of Africa's chances of ever staging the competition might have taken a huge blow.
The Peter Mokaba Stadium under construction. (GettyImages)
As the domino effect begins to take place in South Africa, with the organizers' decision to drop the Port Elizabeth stadium from next year's confederations Cup, no-one can blame Blatter for taking a precautionary move as the African nation looks unprepared for an event that is just two years away.
Already six months behind schedule, and now adding a second stadium that would not be completed on time to the equation, it also questions the readiness of another African nation for a competition of such magnitude. FIFA and its major sponsors, obviously disappointed in the continent's most competent host, cannot test out at least two venues due to a plethora of issues that has always affected Africa.
African nations really need to get their acts together, if they want to be taken seriously in staging major events in the future. Nigeria, after hosting the draw for the U-20 World Cup in 1995, eventually lost out as Qatar swooped in to save the day.
FIFA avoided the obvious, that Nigeria was not ready, but a tailor-made explanation of some disease outbreak in an isolated part of the country was its logical reasoning. Nigeria did get to host the event four years later though.
But will South Africa fall into that same predicament, or will FIFA allow it to host the rest of the world? One thing is certain, South Africa has to address more than just its stadium issues. The country has to tackle some major sociological problems as well.
The World Cup is a big budget event and only a select few with the right infrastructures can stage it. Just like the Olympics and Commonwealth games, not many nations around the world can afford to carry the financial burden of staging an event of this magnitude. If South Africa's incessant electricity and strike issues continue, then there is a big problem. Yet how many African nations can boast of an uninterrupted power supply?!
Aside from issues regarding power, fan safety is also a dilemma for those hoping to travel to a country already stereotyped for its high level of crime. The belief that South Africa is a dangerous nation means its level of security might have been misrepresented, because crime is an issue wherever we travel.
But security is not just an issue in South Africa, it is in other parts of the continent as well. A place with numerous tribes mixed together sometimes will result in a difference of opinions, like the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia. With South Africa though, since it has the most documented crime rates in Africa, the level of security when hosting will have to be top notch.
Because Africa has widespread poverty, another burning question is can people actually afford to attend matches, when South Africa is not playing? Though the nation hosted the Cricket World Cup in 2003, and Rubgy's in 1995, football, in terms of number of fans is a different cup of tea. In 1996, during the African Nations Cup, whenever Bafana Bafana did not play, the stadiums were empty and it was a disaster when powerhouses from the continent squared up.
South Africa actually has the best infrastructure compared to a lot of its fellow African nations. Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria might have hosted the Nations Cup at different times, but the World Cup with 32 countries is not the same as 16 African nations.
South Africa's management might play second fiddle to the Egyptians, with unbelievable organization during the 2006 Nations Cup; but the lack of cities to adequately accommodate the amount of people that could flock the North African nation is an issue.
Morocco's case, similar to Egypt, makes it tough and even if both countries combined their efforts, it still might be tough to pull off.
Nigeria on the other hand might boast of some of the best cities, but the endemic lack of organisation, proper leadership and corruption when big events arrive, hinder the country's progress.
Since no other African nation has the ready-made infrastructure to accomplish an event this huge, what does that say for the one hope?
As much as Blatter loves Africa - he has enormous support from the continent during elections - his hands are tied and until there is significant progress coming out of South Africa, do not be alarmed if we end up with a different host for the World Cup in 2010.