South Africa 2009-05-28 : Pretoria ready to host the Festival of Champions

The major upgrading and renovations Pretoria embarked on to ensure the successful hosting of FIFA Confederations Cup matches will finally come to fruition in the next few weeks, writes Bathandwa Mbola.

An estimated 50 000 overseas sports fans are expected to descend on South Africa for the Confederations Cup which kicks off on 14 June. Three matches will be played at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

On 15 June, the United States will play Italy at 8.30pm, on 18 June the US will go up against Brazil at 4pm and one of the bigger games will see Italy face off against Brazil on Sunday 21 June at 8.30pm.

Teams will start arriving in the country from next week to begin acclimatising and training, while fans are expected to begin trickling in the following week.

Speaking to BuaNews about the city's readiness to welcome international guests, Godfrey Nkwane, Chief Executive Officer of the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality's 2010 unit, said they were ready and FIFA inspectors had given their preparations the thumbs up.

FIFA delegates from all function areas such as hospitality, accreditation, media and marketing, IT and communications, security and transport have approved the city's readiness.

Loftus, which underwent relatively minor upgrades to meet the stringent FIFA requirements, has been used for sports events since 1903. The first concrete structure, which could accommodate 2 000 spectators, was built by the City Council of Pretoria in 1923.

"The main upgrade to the building was a new roof over the eastern pavilion. In addition, the stadium received new media and venue operations centres, new ablution facilities and a new lift, amongst others," explained Mr Nkwane.

The work and IT upgrades at the stadium have been completed. However, Mr Nkwane said the repairs to the pitch might be compromised during the weekend's Super 14 final between the Blue Blues and Waikato Chiefs.

Other final touches such as the placing of new carpets in the holding area and the completion of the walkways are also still outstanding.

The city has put in place a comprehensive and integrated transport plan to get fans to and from the stadium safety and efficiently.

On match days, dedicated soccer trains will run from Johannesburg's Park Station and from Germiston Station to Rissik Station in Hatfield and back after the match.

"There will be two trains from each station to allow for expected numbers. They will leave approximately five hours before kick-off. The trip is around one and a half hours," explained Mr Nkwane.

He said soccer fans coming from Johannesburg via train would disembark at Rissik Station in Hatfield. From there it is a 10 minute walk to Loftus along a route manned by security personnel and volunteers.

Some fans, however, would have booked a hospitality package through MATCH which includes being transported via their tour operator to the designated parking area at Loftus Versveld.

A total of 1132 volunteers will be deployed in the city to assist visitors and officials with accreditation, marketing and media, language skills, ticketing, transportation and other logistical and operational areas. Nearly half live in Pretoria, ensuring that the job creation benefits city residents.

Mr Nkwane revealed that the city had completed the volunteer selection process and training had taken place in May. The volunteer's special FIFA Confederations Cup 2009-branded uniforms have already been procured to ensure they are easily visible to visitors.

In an effort to make the Confederations Cup accessible to everyone, regardless of whether or not they can afford a ticket, the city will be hosting public viewing areas.

"The viewing will be set up in four township areas, and will allow locals to enjoy the festivities of the tournament - and give visitors a taste of local township culture," said Mr Nkwane.

Public viewing areas will be set up at Soshanguve Block X, Temba Sports Ground in Hammanskraal, Mbolekwa Sports Complex in Atteridgeville and Moretele Park in Mamelodi.

Mr Nkwane said he was confident that the city's security department, together with the South African Police Services, had implemented sufficient measures to ensure that the pubic were safe during the matches.

"Pamphlets will also be distributed at public places to make the public aware of these security requirements. The pamphlets will contain information related to items not allowed into the stadium and explain how fans should behave inside the stadium."

He said the SAPS were well-equipped and ready to deal with any threat during the event.

As part of its preparation, the police have conducted several simulation exercises with the South African National Defence Force and the National Intelligence Agency. Among the scenarios which were simulated were an airplane hijacking and a hostage situation.

"There will be more than 3000 police officers on the streets of the host cities every day before, during and after an event," said Mr Nkwane.

Pretoria also boasts many excitement tourist attractions including the Union Buildings which is the seat of government and the President's official office, the Voortrekker Monument, the Pretoria National Zoo, Rietvlei Nature Reserve, the State Theatre, Church Square among many more.

Meanwhile, ticket sales for the FIFA Confederations Cup are fast approaching the 400 000 mark. Some 383 506 tickets, or 63 percent of the total 640 000 tickets available, had been sold by 21 May, according to FIFA.

Of those sold, 25 000 had been bought over the counter since the opening of ticketing centres in the four host cities of Johannesburg, Tshwane/Pretoria, Mangaung/Bloemfontein and Rustenburg.

Johannesburg is in the lead, with 33 509 tickets purchased and collected at its ticketing centre in Sandton. - BuaNews