One Small Voice

2009-03-27 00:00

It is surely time for South Africans to wake up and recognise that their country has become one of the most, if not the most, outstanding places to host a major international sporting event.

“See yourself as others see you” is a useful maxim, and even the most genetically cynical, miserable and negative citizens will surely reflect on this past week and accept that, notwithstanding enduring poverty, crime and corruption, somebody must be getting something right within these borders.

These are hectic times.

Through six years of intensive bidding and five years of organising, South Africans have been striving to persuade the Fifa that they can stage a successful World Cup in 2010. Preparations remain on track, but 15 months before kick-off, there are still some Swiss and Germans standing in the foyers of luxury Sandton hotels frowning and muttering “Zis is not normal”.

Then, out of the blue, the Board of Control for Cricket in India decide they cannot stage their Indian Premier League in their own country because it clashes with five weeks of elections. So they jump on a flight to Johannesburg, hold a three-hour meeting with Cricket SA and, that same afternoon, announce to the world that the spectacular eight-team event will be played in South Africa — oh, and it starts in just over three weeks.

The comparison is tenuous, because the Fifa World Cup comes with an anticipated 450 000 visitors, while the IPL will bring only a few thousand. However, in other respects, the nuts and bolts of hosting a 64-match football tournament and a 59-game cricket event are not wildly different. Maybe it is true that, like much else in life, undertaking a business project or writing a book, the task of organising a sporting event is like gas — it expands to fill the available space, whether it is seven years or three weeks.

Beyond dispute is the global consensus that SA is ready and able to meet the event-hosting challenge.

Why? Three reasons.

First, this is a fantastic country to visit. Locals may take for granted the sunshine, the beaches, mountains, winelands and the game parks, but visitors are bowled over by the beauty of the place, complemented by easy internal air connections and a fast-growing inventory of excellent restaurants and hotels where value for money is matched by the quality of food and service.

Second, South Africans have proved they can get the job done. Next month? No problem. Major sporting venues are staffed by skilled people with extensive experience of handling big crowds and big matches, and the SA Police Service and private security companies know how to secure sports events. The country is quietly, repeatedly and heroically served by exceptional staff within two particular companies. Southern Sun hotels have been effectively and efficiently accommodating sporting teams and their supporters for many years, during the 1995 Rugby World Cup and on countless occasions ever since. SAA do not always enjoy favourable media, but there are exceptional people within the airline who organise the flights and book the group tickets, with minimum fuss.

Third, this is a great country with so many great people, enthusiastic, warm, hospitable, quick-to-smile people who rock up to the stadium, get involved and enjoy themselves and collectively create that special, priceless vibe.

Imagine it: the opening weekend of the IPL at Newlands on April 18 and 19, two double-headers bringing all eight teams, the best 100 cricketers in the world, to one stadium. Imagine it: the Fifa Confederations Cup starring full-strength teams from Brazil, Italy, Spain and Bafana Bafana, running from June 14 to 28. Imagine it: the three-Test series between the Springboks and the Lions in June and July. Imagine it: cricket’s ICC Champions Trophy coming in September. Imagine it: the Fifa World Cup in 2010, watched by three out of every five people on the planet.

Now stop imagining. It’s all going to happen, right here in South Africa, the world’s favourite sporting stage.

Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby and GM of SABC sport, and is involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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