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World Cup focus

Fringe benefits?

July 8, 2010
By Firdose Moonda, South Africa

It is the vastest province in South Africa with the smallest population. It has the Augrabies Falls, famous Namaqualand Daisies, the largest wildlife and nature conservation area in southern Africa, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and is home to a mine that produces a great majority of one of the most sought-after minerals in the world. The Northern Cape is, literally, a diamond in the rough. Yet, it was the only province not allocated a host city for the World Cup.

Uruguay players enjoyed sampling the local culture when staying in Kimberley
GettyImagesUruguay players enjoyed sampling the local culture when staying in Kimberley

Its capital city, Kimberley, was probably the only place the Northern Cape could have put forward as a possible host. But, with no designated football stadium, no team in the Premier Soccer League and only existing cricket and rugby stadiums, there was not a strong enough case for the Diamond City to be elevated to host city status. Instead, Kimberley was awarded small consolation prizes such as the official 50-days countdown celebration in April this year.

The city's proudest moment came when the only team they were hosting made it through to the last stages of the tournament. Uruguay had been based at the Protea Hotel in Kimberley, a place Diego Forlan said "felt like home." They've been away from the big smoke of Johannesburg and the hustle and bustle of other cities and that allowed the team to blend in with the locals. Forlan even took a stroll to have a haircut and the team were often spotted wandering around the area. Although some South Africans may have wanted the Uruguayan players (read: Luis Suarez) to fall into the city's famous Big Hole after they inflicted a double blow to Africa, the locals grew fond of Uruguay and enjoyed mingling with the superstars.

Kimberley has little to show as a legacy. It upgraded one arena - the GWK stadium - for the Uruguay team to train on. The total expenditure on upgrading of infrastructure for the World Cup was a mere US $ 1.5 million and the amount of exposure the city got through the tournament was minimal when compared with other areas of country. Its fringe experience made it the odd one out of the provinces and also highlighted an important thing: the smaller towns of South Africa have lost out to their big brothers in the tournament.

Rustenburg, Nelspruit and Polokwane do not immediately catch the eye as World Cup hosts. While Rustenburg prospered because of its close proximity to Sun City Casino and resort, and the stadium is backed by the funding of the Royal Bafokeng family, Nelspruit and Polokwane would've seen fewer returns than they may have initially expected. Polokwane markets itself on its proximity to nature and wildlife. It is regarded as the premier hunting destination in South Africa and game farms are the chief source of tourism in the city.

Game reserve owners expected that the influx of tourists into the country, now believed to be over a million, would spill over onto their sanctuaries. It turned out that the only sport tourists were interested in was the football and numbers at game farms didn't swell as expected during this time. One reserve owner told South African television that his farm actually saw numbers go down. The World Cup tourists were not visiting and the regular hunting crowd was not turning up either because they decided to wait until next year to avoid being caught up in what they thought would be a chaotic glut of tourists.

It didn't help that Polokwane didn't receive any of the so-called premier fixtures. The biggest match it had was between Mexico and France. That evening fans were searching for rooms to stay in and bars to celebrate in, but that was the busiest Polokwane got. The locals had to settle for watching the clashes between Algeria and Slovenia and Greece and Argentina. Most of the people who did travel to those matches drove themselves in for the day and left when the game ended. The match between Paraguay and New Zealand, the last to be hosted in Polokwane, was particularly problematic in terms of ticket sales and empty seats were in abundance. Despite the low-key appeal of the matches in the city, Polokwane was praised for its efficiency in terms of transport and security and if nothing else, must feel as though it got to be a part of the World Cup party.

Nelspruit was not lucky when it came to slick management. The fan fest based at the Bergvlam High School was badly mismanaged and eventually decided to close on non-match days during the last week of the tournament, because there was simply not enough traffic to keep it going. The vendors were promised a refund of the US $2,500 they had paid for the space. One of the vendors, Mr Sibusiso Mashego, told the Lowvelder newspaper (the local daily in Nelspruit) that his grills were switched off for most of the event as crowds only arrived on local match days and for the three Bafana Bafana matches. The rest of the time a few hundred people were scattered around the area, despite the vendors being promised 10 to 15,000 people on a daily basis, along with carnivals and special events.

The Nelspruit fan fest was poorly attended
GettyImagesThe Nelspruit fan fest was poorly attended

The operating company, Sefako, which was supposed to manage the fan fest was blamed for its failure to attract greater crowds. Poor planning resulted in Afrikaans singing sensation Kurt Darren pulling out of the opening and the food stalls offering little variety, so fans were generally bored. Nelspruit's marketing manager, Mr Joseph Ngala, said that "the municipality trusted that Sefako would deliver, but that their failure to do so now necessitated the municipality to downscale significantly. The Fan Mile did better since information was shared with the public. With Sefako little or no information was released, damaging what promised to be a self-sustaining event."

Nelspruit was host to the Chile team, who stayed at the Ingwengyama Conference Centre. It was a real feather in the hotel's cap after the delegation from South America visited 12 different resorts in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, before deciding on a small-town base. "With traffic problems of the big cities like Johannesburg, it was wonderful to return to the relaxing atmosphere of White River and the lovely views from our rooms," said Chile team manager Claudio Olmedo. "Ingwenyama completely lived up to our expectations in every respect."

The other thumbs up Nelspruit received was for the Mbombela Stadium, which was one of the five newly built stadiums for the tournament. Stadium project manager Mr Neil Fourie said that, "FIFA's media team was so impressed with the layout of the player and media areas, that they requested a floor plan to use as a case study for stadiums in Europe." It's accolades like this that have been the major motivating factor for the small towns of South Africa, which may otherwise have been completely forgotten about while the biggest event to take place in this country played out.