The British invasion of Rustenburg

2009-09-12 00:00

WHEN England’s thumping 5-1 victory over Croatia at Wembley on Wednesday confirmed they will take their place at next year’s Fifa World Cup finals in South Africa, ecstatic celebrations quickly spread from Liverpool to London, from Newcastle to Nuneaton, and from Rochdale to... Rustenburg.

At least, the good citizens of the one-main-street town on the road to Sun City should have been celebrating, because it has been widely reported in London that Fabio Capello’s team have decided to establish their base camp during the tournament at a brand-new training facility on their doorstep.

The English are coming... and not just John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and the players, but also their wives, girlfriends, attendant media and tens of thousands of supporters.

So what? So a lot, actually.

First, the word “Rustenburg” has already appeared countless times in the English media, in newspapers, on radio and on television, and it will continue to feature repeatedly throughout the next 10 months; then, from the beginning of June 2010 for as long as the England team are competing, the town will become a constant element in a mind-boggling barrage of reports and bulletins.

Total promotional value? Priceless.

Four years ago, during their 2006 World Cup campaign in Germany, the England team were based in a place called Baden Baden; in the 12 months that followed, the total number of British tourists to this otherwise obscure Bavarian town increased by a multiple of eight. Such is the power of the World Cup.

Rustenburg is already established as one of the tournament’s nine host cities, but the challenge now facing the city council, local businesses and local people is to capitalise on this English opportunity and do whatever they can to ensure the town projects a positive image in this intense media spotlight.

This means working proactively with visiting television crews to ensure their presenters stand in positions where the town appears over their shoulders in its best possible light. This means ensuring the entire place is clean and spotless. This means providing plenty of places for supporters to gather and relax and spend money. This means urging local people to be as friendly and welcoming to their visitors as possible.

If Rustenburg rises to the occasion, the rewards will be enormous: an increase in tourism, an international profile, new opportunities to host conferences. All this will translate into revenue, jobs and real hope, and that in turn will lead to the accelerated alleviation of poverty — this is the documented experience of previous hosts of major events; this is why SA is hosting the World Cup.

There is, naturally, no such thing as a free lunch.

The England footballers will certainly bring an economic bonanza to the North West town, but they will also bring their infamous wives and girlfriends. The “WAGS”, as they are widely known, are a bunch of designer-clad, artificially tanned former pop stars, models and groupies. These dames may well arrive in Rustenburg and ask for directions to the Gucci shop or Prada or maybe even to Abercrombie and Fitch, and to tell the truth, they will be a little underwhelmed to be shown the local Shoprite as an alternative.

This could have become a problem, at least until Fabio Capello, the stern-faced England manager, declared this week he would only tolerate the presence of the WAGS for one day per week during the tournament. “If they want to visit the players,” he said, “they can see them on the day following a match. Otherwise, they will not be welcome at our base. We are going there to play football, not for a holiday.”

The manager’s edict will take the pressure off Rustenburg’s retail capacity – and it’s probably good news for the upmarket malls of Sandton, which can look forward to welcoming the likes of Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole and the rest as they while away the days between their scheduled visits. But this is not a time for anybody associated with the town to relax, not even for a moment.

An enormous English tidal wave of opportunity is on its way, and there are only 272 days left until kick-off.

 

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

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