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Ready to make Mzansi proud

By unknown | Jan 26, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

The countdown to Africa's first World Cup hit the 500-day mark today, but you'd hardly know it from walking the streets of Johannesburg.

The countdown to Africa's first World Cup hit the 500-day mark today, but you'd hardly know it from walking the streets of Johannesburg.

Construction of new stadiums and upgrades of existing ones are in full swing along with a massive overhaul of the apartheid-era transport system that has turned swathes of the city into building zones.

But away from the skeletons of the rising stadiums across the country, there's still little sign that one of the world's premier sporting events is arriving just next year.

The World Cup mascot, a green-haired leopard named Zakumi, has gone into hiding after making a splash on his national debut on TV in September.

Even signs for the Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal for the World Cup, do not quite show yet.

Rich Mkhondo, spokesman for the local organising committee (LOC), said that's about to change, with the 500-day mark.

"We will begin to earnestly promote the World Cup after the Confed Cup," he told AFP.

He said mayors of the four Confed Cup host cities will be in Bloemfontein on Tuesday to unveil a marketing campaign for the tournament that starts in June.

What organisers have been doing has been to repeatedly reassure naysayers who feared the country wasn't ready to stage a major global event or that Fifa would turn to a Plan B.

"We will be ready and Plan B is officially dead," Danny Jordaan, head of the LOC told The Star earlier this month.

The stadiums are largely on schedule, with World Cup venues in Nelson Mandela Bay, Durban, Polokwane, Nelspruit and Soccer City 60 percent complete and set to meet the October deadline, organisers said.

Green Point Stadium in Cape Town is also about half finished, while upgrades at other venues will be ready for the Confed Cup, they said.

Public interest is clearly strong with nearly 40000 tournament volunteers - 10 times the requirement - having applied. Their training will begin next month.

Some tickets have already been sold through tour packages which Fifa says have exceeded their target.

"The most challenging areas are transportation, accommodation and security, but plans made by authorities for these crucial areas are re-assuring," Fifa told AFP.

Police are recruiting 55000 new officers, bringing personnel up to 190000 in a bid to rein in the alarming crime rate in a country where on average 50 people die violently every day.

Public transport is being built almost from scratch with a ß1billion (R13 billion) rail link between Johannesburg's main business district and the airport, special bus lanes and shiny new vehicles for the nine host cities.

Fifa also said it was working with tourism officials to ensure that 55000 rooms were available each night during the World Cup, a goal it plans to meet by tapping into hotels, guesthouses and even timeshare schemes.

Thabani Khumalo, managing director for Think Tank marketing services, had criticised organisers last year for being too slow with their promotional efforts.

He believes the events will reunite South Africans.

"The event will renew the spirit of togetherness that South Africans experienced when apartheid was overthrown by democracy in 1994," Khumalo said. - Sapa-AFP


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