One small voice: There are 548 sleeps before 2010 kicks off

2008-11-28 00:00

EVEN today, with just 548 sleeps left before the opening match, a staggering number of South Africans have yet to understand the sheer scale of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

“Ja,” they say, “it’s big, but, you know, the Rugby World Cup … that’s massive.”

They still say that. They really do.

In 1995, the Rugby World Cup attracted 22 000 visiting supporters to this country. In 2010, the Fifa World Cup will attract an estimated 450 000 visiting supporters to this country.

In 1995, the Rugby World Cup attracted 22 000 visiting supporters to this country. In 2010, the Fifa World Cup will attract an estimated 450 000 visiting supporters to this country. That was not a misprint. That was repetition for the sake of emphasis. In terms of incoming visitors and global TV audiences and revenue, there is no comparison between the events.

In terms of hotels being booked many months in advance, and people wearing replica kits wandering around looking for somewhere to sleep; in terms of shopping centres being overrun by hungry and thirsty fans draped in national flags, looking for a beer and something to eat; in terms of people wanting to get from A to B, looking for a taxi, a bus, a flight, a train or even a lift; in terms of people wanting a souvenir, looking for a wooden giraffe or a vuvuzela; in terms of people wanting to see the country between World Cup matches, looking for a quick trip to a game park, a beach or a wine farm; in terms of people wanting to see “real Africa”, looking for a Zulu dance or a township tour or a visit to Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto … etcetera.

In terms of everything except the physical size of the players, the Fifa World Cup is a mighty hurricane and the Rugby World Cup is not much more than a gentle breeze.

Wake up! Word wakker!

Anybody who owns a flat, secure piece of land within walking distance of a stadium, a main transport hub or a tourist attraction should start planning to organise a Fan Village, offering basic clean accommodation in caravans or tents, providing a nightly braai with music, entertainment and a giant screen to watch matches — and then they should contact national supporters’ associations in countries such as England, Holland, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico or Japan, and bank their profit with a single umbrella group deal.

Any school or university, any institution of any kind with the capacity to offer people somewhere to sleep or eat or drink or even just to park should work out precisely what they can provide, and then make contact with the respective host city organisations and weave their project into the overall strategy.

Anybody who owns a bus or taxi company should buy a map of each of the nine host cities and highlight the airports, the main hotel hubs, the official Fan Fest locations and stadiums, and work out intelligent routes avoiding inevitably congested main intersections and prepare to move people around.

Sure, there is money to be made. More importantly, there is a tournament to be brilliantly hosted, with joy and enthusiasm, with genuine African warmth and passion, and there is a special country to be actively promoted to billions of people watching from every town in every country on the planet.

Stand and shout from the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, from the Donkin Memorial in PE, from Signal Hill in Bloem, from the highest points in Polokwane, Rustenburg and Nelspruit, from the Union Buildings in Pretoria and even from the top of the Hillbrow tower in Johannesburg …

Stand and shout out loud that the 2010 Fifa World Cup is not just a once in a lifetime opportunity for South Africa and all South Africans. It is a once-ever, never to be repeated opportunity to market this country around the world as a place to holiday, to stage a conference, to trade and to invest – and thereby to create jobs, to generate wealth, to alleviate poverty and to realise this nation’s boundless potential.

The mighty hurricane is coming. Rig the masts, set the sails, let’s ride this baby into the future.

Wake up. Please.

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

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