Monday, May 24, 2010

The calabash of dreams

I was fortunate enough to get tickets for the inaugural game at Soccer City in Soweto last Saturday. Designed to resemble a traditional African cooking pot or calabash, the stadium is set to be host to the opening game and the final of the 2010 World Cup. South Africa’s version of the FA Cup, the Nedbank Cup (readers of a Scottish persuasion will find the name amusing) final was contested by two of the smaller teams in the top flight; Bidvest Wits and Amazulu. Over 74,000 fans were there to witness unfancied Wits win their first trophy of coach Roger De Sa’s tenure, winning 3-0 with the last two goals coming in the dying moments of the second half. Yet the game was secondary in many respects. A Wits – Amazulu fixture would usually be lucky to get the attendance of a regular Torquay United home game; the other 72,000 were there to be a part of South African soccer history. As such, there were few Wits and Amazulu shirts on display in the crowd, most preferring to wear the colours of Bafana Bafana, the South African national team.

Outside Soccer City

South African President Jacob Zuma was there to officially open the stadium, which cuts a striking presence on the Sowetan landscape. I was initially sceptical of the design but as I stood in front of it, I couldn’t help but marvel at the unique construction. Two years ago, much of the western media focus was on whether South Africa would be able to finish the stadia in time with Australia and England being touted as possible alternatives but such fears have been proved unfounded. However concerns still remain. As with the organised chaos of the park and ride system implemented during last year’s Confederations Cup, the traffic was gridlocked and the game was delayed for 30 minutes. Some bright spark thought that it was a good idea to hold both the Nedbank Cup final (74,000 people) and the Super 14 rugby semi-final between the Bulls and the Crusaders at Orlando Stadium in Soweto (40,000 people) at the same time on the same day. It was asking for trouble with the traffic cops seemingly unable to prevent drivers driving the wrong way down the roads and causing mayhem. This combined with the usual erratic driving style in this country created a problem that needs urgent attention. Tonight is Bafana v Bulgaria in a World Cup warm up at Orlando Stadium. Hopefully the traffic issue will be better but the evening traffic to Soweto will prove to be another irritating obstacle.

Gridlock outside the stadium
Inside Soccer City

I thought that World Cup adverts in the UK were already at overkill level but this place has gone football loopy. Not only are there the usual adverts calling on South Africans to get behind the team by drinking a certain brand of beer, subscribing to a certain cellphone network or banking with a certain bank, but story lines in TV soaps are dominated by the world cup. In one soap last Friday evening, almost every character was wearing a Bafana shirt and footballs and vuvuzelas were in virtually every shot. In one scene, female characters were discussing which Bafana player they fancied. It would be like Mo Slater in the Queen Vic exclaiming that “she wouldn't mind a piece of John Terry” (urrghh!). Yet while optimism abounds in some quarters, there is also a lot of scepticism over the benefits that the World Cup is alleged to bring.

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