Newsmaker: Going where lions fear to tread

2012-04-14 15:30

It’s been a challenging week for Mvuzo Mbebe, the man in charge of South Africa’s efforts to host the Africa Cup of Nations next year.

Mbebe was appointed by the SA Football Association (Safa) last month as CEO of the Local Organising Committee for the Caf Orange Africa Cup of Nations 2013 to be played between January and February.

South Africa stepped in last September after host country Libya was plunged into civil war. It was a case of history repeating itself, as South Africa also stepped in as hosts at the 11th hour in 1996, after concerns were raised about the readiness of Kenya to host the tournament.

Mbebe hopes to emulate the success of 1996.

The 1996 competition, played in Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Durban and Port Elizabeth, holds the record for the second highest attendance figures in the tournament’s history, when 640 880 spectators passed through the turnstiles.

In recent years Afcon has been dogged by low attendance. Mbebe, however, hopes to bypass the 735 000 record attendance set in Nigeria in 1980.

Sipping from a can of Sprite Zero, Mbebe doesn’t appear to be entertaining any chance of low fan numbers. He says: “Let’s get everyone to attend the matches, let’s get at least each person buying a ticket to attend one match or go to a fan park.”

But to achieve this, he will first have to deal with an issue which has hogged the headlines all week. The cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town have expressed concern that they may not have the money required to be hosts, and have asked for money from National Treasury and the LOC.

The thorny issues come in the wake of growing concern around issues of service delivery and spending of public funds by municipalities. But Mbebe said the seven bidding cities, including Cape Town and Johannesburg, displayed “enthusiasm”.

“The cities have not been reluctant,” said Mbebe at Safa House on Thursday afternoon.

“They came to bid, seven cities and the province of Gauteng. They came with bright ideas of how they will fill the stadiums. There have been concerns raised in the bidding process and we are addressing those.”

Mbebe said the “worst case scenario” for cities were costs amounting to R22 million. The host cities are responsible for paying for participating teams’ accommodation, match officials, VIP catering and security on match days, the match venue and emergency services.

“I don’t know where the figure of R80 million comes from,” he said about reports that the cities believed the costs of the 30-day tournament could escalate.

“We will still carry a lot of costs as the LOC because we are still responsible for hosting the tournament, so we have to pay for things like flying teams into the country.”

But why should an ordinary citizen struggling with bad roads and poor drinking water give his blessing for his municipality to spend money on a football tournament?

“We all know that events drive tourists into the city ... so that’s why they must support it as a city,” he said.

“At the end of the day it’s not football that gains ... it is the city itself. Cities wouldn’t have made a bid if they didn’t know the spin-offs from hosting.”

Mbebe’s appointment raised eyebrows after his unceremonious exit from the SABC, where he was suspended after being accused of failing to get the board’s authorisation before signing broadcast deals that cost an estimated R1,7 billion. Mbebe said this was discussed at length with Safa before his appointment.

“The issue at hand was whether when I signed certain contracts I had the authority of the board and I think we need to put that into perspective. To me, my conscience is clear that I never left the SABC under a cloud,” he said.

“For the last two years we’ve been engaged with the SABC in court with me saying I want to go back. If there was something for me to hide I would not have been fighting to go back there.”

It was brave of Mbebe to have accepted the LOC job less than a year before kick-off. He’s got grand plans for the tournament too, hoping to attract European fans as African stars play in their leagues.

“Africans are busy buying tickets to the Euro. Let the reverse happen, let’s get Europeans to come here and watch the Afcon. We need to say, ‘These African stars entertain you every single week in your leagues, why don’t you join them when they celebrate being African and African football next year?’’

“Is it an easy process? No. But why should we be afraid of the challenge? I’ve always said, ‘Go there where the lions fear’.

Challenge that process, go in there, rather fail trying than to say, ‘Eish, it’s a mammoth task let me not even try’,” he said.

But he’s got his work cut out.

A massive marketing campaign is set to be launched next month.

Perhaps, as his name suggests, South Africa may earn some worthy rewards from hosting Afcon 2013. 

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