Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Finding a fan park

In a recent post, I claimed that there were no fan parks in Johannesburg for the Africa Cup of Nations but it turns out that I was wrong. Well, sort of.

I had come to this conclusion when driving past the sites of the main 2010 World Cup fan parks in the city to find that nothing was happening. During the World Cup, Mary Fitzgerald Square had giant screens, banners, live music, a large beer tent and numerous stalls selling food prepared by local vendors and local goods such as makarapas (a quintessentially South African football item). A giant figure made up of Coca-Cola crates loomed large and was instantly recognisable from the highway. Crowds of fans from different parts of the city congregated to watch some of the matches, notably Bafana's win over France and the final, in a party atmosphere. This park was run by the city, in contrast to the other two in Sandton (in the north) and Soweto (in the south), which were official FIFA Fan Parks where only 'official' merchandise could be sold and consumed. These parks haven't re-emerged this time, and it has deadened the beat of the Afcon in Jo'burg.

Bafana v France at Mary Fitzgerald Square in 2010. This was the vibe that I was hoping for in 2013

Still, a reader had corrected me on the lack of fan parks in the city so I duly did a Google search. Lo and behold, I found that the city had organised nine fan parks in the greater Johannesburg area. Yet these are not like the fan parks that I've described above. During the World Cup, the city also set up a number of smaller fan parks located in the poorer parts of the city, under the Township TV scheme. Football fans, for whom tickets, transport and television were financially out of reach, could communally watch the games on a not-so-giant screen. However, when I went to these places, I found only small groups of people quietly watching the games. Not the celebratory environment that had been expected by the organisers.

For 2013, Township TV has again been used to reach those who cannot afford to go to the games and to watch them as part of a larger group. The organisers have said that they are expecting thousands to attend the nine parks, where you cannot wish for a more vibey celebration of this continental football extravaganza. It was also promising to read that security has been beefed-up as well.

So I headed down to Joubert Park in the centre of Johannesburg last night. To give you a brief taste, Joubert Park was a whites-only residential area under apartheid but today suffers from urban decay and borders the notorious Hillbrow and slightly less notorious Berea. Part of me thought that I shouldn't be there at night but my research experience there combined with the fact that I had never had any problems there before put my fears to rest.

Problem was that when I got there, there was no sign of the vibey celebration, nor the beefed up security. Only a few handfulls of people were sitting on the grass, watching the match. The screen itself was only three-quarters working, with the score permanently obscured. Commentary was fairly audible, but was underwhelming against the bustling sounds of the surrounding city as people made their way home. I had a few confused stares from people watching the game, as the only white guy there, but there was a general sense of apathy. Elsewhere in the park, the multiple chess games and especially the giant chess game appeared to draw more interest from passersby than the football did.

The 'crowds' at Joubert Park
Where is the vibe?

Yet, I have to make it clear that South Africa have not had long to organise hosting the tournament, which had been scheduled to have been in Libya. They've made a pretty good go of things considering. Burkina Faso v Zambia and Ethiopia v Nigeria were probably not fixtures that were going to alter Furthermore, Joubert Park was not one of the four parks that have been adorned with the local flavour of makarapas, SA flags, vuvuzelas and the patriotic fervour of our soccer fans in support of Bafana Bafana.  

Burkina Faso v Zambia and Ethiopia v Nigeria were probably not fixtures that were going to alter people's daily routines but come Saturday's quarter-final between SA and Mali, these parks may yet take on a new lease of life. Hopefully.

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