Soccer City Stadium to be the jewel of 2010

The calabash-shaped Soccer City Stadium is expected to be the jewel among the ten stadiums that are expected to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, writes Proffesor Ndawonde.

Located in Johannesburg's southwest and only a stone's throw from one of the country's football crazy townships, Soweto, Soccer City Stadium will host the opening ceremony, and opening and final matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The stadium is expected to be completed and handed over to world football governing body, FIFA, and the Local Organising Committee by October 2009.

The unique calabash shape of the stadium will be an iconic symbol of the first world cup hosted on African soil and remain as an enduring legacy of one of the proudest moments in the history of a democratic South Africa.

To take its rightful place among the top sports stadiums in the world, Soccer City has underwent a comprehensive design shift, and the construction to revamp one of the most popular stadiums in Africa started in early 2007.

The original stadium, known to many as FNB Stadium, was almost completely demolished and significant parts of the new structure were built from this rubble.

The stadium Manager, Brian Carter, affirmed that the seating capacity has been increased from 88 000 to 94 700 through extension to the upper tiers around the stadium.

He added that 99 more suites have been added to bring the total to 184 with private boxes and VIP suites being built.

"Eight television presentation studios, a soccer museum and a 300 seater restaurant are being built as well as a parking area that will accommodate 15 000 vehicles," he said.

He added that the International Broadcasting Centre that will house the world's media for the duration of the tournament is under construction next to the stadium while SAFA House that serves as headquarters for FIFA and the LOC is also situated nearby.

According to the City of Johannesburg, the budget for the stadium's reconstruction project is estimated at R1.2 billion.

From an engineering perspective, Soccer City is the biggest roofed stadium ever built for a World Cup final.

It will unquestionably find a unique place among the best stadiums in the world such as the Olympia Stadium in Berlin, the Stadio San Siro in Milan, New Wembley in London and Bernabeu in Madrid.

However, the most fascinating iconic feature is its calabash shaped design which will grab the attention of many tourists during the tournament.

Mr Carter said, selected from a number of competing designs, the calabash was picked as a uniquely African object and a recognisable symbol of the African continent.

"The calabash, or 'melting pot of African cultures', sits on a raised podium on top of which is located a 'pit of fire', he said, adding that spectators and the world-wide television audience will be left with the impression that they are sitting inside this giant cauldron.

Built in 1987, the stadium has become synonymous with South African football and has hosted most of the well-known games played in the country, including numerous cup finals and South Africa's historic victory in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in 1996.

Besides being the country's renowned football venue, Soccer City is also remembered for the mass rally held in 1990 to welcome former President Nelson Mandela from prison.

More than 100 000 people crowded the stadium to hear the South African respected icon, Mr Mandela, call for a non-racial and unified South Africa.

Together with the newly revamped Orlando and Dobsonville Stadiums as official 2010 training grounds, Soccer City will entrench the south of Johannesburg and especially Soweto as Africa's premier football precinct.

The stadium will host the opening match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on 11 June followed by group stages matches, a second round match and a quarter final.

On 11 July 2010, the two best teams in the world will step out onto the turf of Soccer City to determine which country's team will be crowned World Champions and hold the Jules Rimet Trophy.