With 2010 fast approaching, focus on

2009-11-06 00:00

IT has been said before, but the words bear repeating: the 2010 Fifa World Cup presents South Africa with a once-only opportunity to market itself to the world.

Marketing matters because marketing will promote the growth in tourism, conferences, trade and investment, which will create jobs and generate wealth, which will alleviate poverty, which will make SA a more prosperous, more secure and even more wonderful place to live.

However, none of these outcomes are automatic. The World Cup is primarily a football tournament, and a host country that sleeps can very easily be passed by almost unnoticed, reduced to bland and eventually irrelevant scenery.

The collective challenge for South Africans next year is to be sufficiently bold, bright, creative and innovative to wrap this nation all around the event, and proactively to project an uplifting and positive image to each and every corner of the globe. A historic and unique moment approaches — snooze and we’ll lose.

Six gleaming new stadiums will certainly thrill visitors and viewers alike; the structural wonder of Soccer City in Johannesburg, the extraordinary Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town and the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban will shatter global perceptions of Africa as an impoverished wasteland.

However, history suggests that beyond the match venues, it is the official fan parks — where tens of thousands watch the matches on giant screens – that generate the most impressive pictures. The enduring image of Germany 2006 was the sea of fags and joy at the Tiergarten in the middle of Berlin.

Fifa and the Local Organising Committee have been working hard for the past three years to create an official Fan Fest programme that effectively sells SA in 2010 and, after working through delays variously caused by host city inertia and financial wrangling, the project has now reached a critical moment.

Nine of the 10 Fan Fest sites have been confirmed, but only three of these will produce images that genuinely excite picture editors around the world. Grand Parade in Cape Town will benefit from the backdrop of Table Mountain, weather permitting, and North Beach in Durban will yield wonderful images of crowds watching the football as the sun sinks into the ocean. The official Fan Fest site at Elkah stadium in Soweto may not win any prizes for natural beauty, but the excitement, the passion and the buzz reverberating around the grassroots heartland of SA soccer will impress the media.

The 10th and last official Fan Fest site, frustratingly still to be confirmed, has the potential to provide maybe the most seen, most instantly identifiable image of the entire event.

When Sir Herbert Baker sat down in 1909 to design the Union Buildings, 285 metres of beautiful light sandstone buildings standing on a ridge overlooking the capital with impeccably ordered lawns and gardens flowing down to Church Street — creating an iconic amphitheatre instantly recognised around the world — it is entirely possible he was not specifically focused on creating the ideal site for a Fifa Fan Fest.

The point is he might as well have been … the giant screen positioned between the two trees, the symbolic seat of government laid out behind, tens of thousands of people gathering on the lawns, as, indeed, they have gathered for presidential inaugurations.

World Cup organisers long ago identified the Union Buildings as the optimum location for a Fan Fest, but their inspired vision has become increasingly bogged down in officialdom.

It is said: “Yes, no, but it would be a security threat because the site is too close to many embassies.” Others note: “Ja, but we can’t have so many people near government buildings.”

The days become weeks, 2010 draws ever closer. Somebody in the City of Tshwane recently suggested Pilditch Stadium as an alternative, but with respect to the ramshackle, rundown athletics venue, images of Pilditch will not induce one tourist, one conference, one dollar of trade and investment.

It’s now or never. This World Cup is not a rehearsal. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, there may be only one person who can cut through the red tape and bureaucratic caution, and confirm the Fan Fest will be staged at the Union Buildings. That’s the resident. Over to you, Mr President.

• 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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