Ellis Park to host two major international sporting events

By Emily Visser

Johannesburg - The capability of Johannesburg to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be tested to the hilt for the first time in June when two major international sporting events kick off.

Both held every four years, the FIFA Confederations Cup and the British and Irish Lions rugby tour are taking place in South Africa in June this year, with Ellis Park Stadium the key venue for both.

The rugby tour runs from 30 May to 4 July, intersecting with the Confederations Cup, which takes place from 14 to 28 June, reports Joburg.org.

Ellis Park will host a total of seven games during this time and will have to be transformed from a rugby venue set-up to a FIFA-approved football set-up within a 10- and 11-day period, respectively.

It will be an acid test in particular for the city, which will be pushed in terms of its service provision, infrastructure, policing and emergency management services; it will be an opportunity to show that it is able to host the World Cup in 2010.

A buoyant executive director of the city's 2010 Office, Sibongile Mazibuko said Johannesburg was very excited to host two such different sporting events and was working very closely with the South Africa Rugby Union, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa, FIFA and the Ellis Park World of Sport in getting everything ready.

"It also gives the opportunity for us to apply our infrastructure and to sweat our asset. We are ready," she confirmed.

Over R241-million has been spent on the greater Ellis Park area through the Johannesburg Development Agency over the last seven years.

This has included beautifying the whole area with street furniture, art work and lighting; adding additional infrastructure; and bringing in the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system to service the precinct.

Rea Vaya will run from Ellis Park to the inner city, from where it will feed into the Soweto network. There will also be park and ride facilities during both events.

In addition, the city spent another R230-million to upgrade the stadium's capacity and facilities. This included increasing seating from 59 000 to 62 000 and upgrading locker rooms and ablution facilities.

"Seeing this [city] investment used in this way is really the best for us," Ms Mazibuko added.

The British and Irish Lions Tour kicked off at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on 30 May, with the first game scheduled at Ellis Park on 3 June.

It then moves to various fixtures around the country before returning to Ellis Park for the finals on 4 July.

In between the rugby matches, the Confederations Cup takes place - with both the opening match on 14 June, and the closing match and ceremony on 28 June taking place at the stadium.

Another three soccer games will be played at the stadium during this month.

The challenge for the rugby and soccer organising bodies will be to transform the stadium from one sporting discipline to the other in the compressed timeframes.

The city will have to switch between different advertising materials and infrastructure to accommodate the different sponsors.

Advertising applied to the actual pitch will be painted with a special, easily removable material, and the grass will be kept long for the rugby and short for the soccer.

Ms Mazibuko stressed that the most important thing was for the different entities and sporting codes to work together to make the switch-over as smooth as possible and to hand back the infrastructure in its original condition.

"The city is very clear that it has to protect its infrastructure. It is a collaborative effort," Chief Executive Officer for Ellis Park World of Sport, Paul Applesamy said, adding that the stadium was now world class from a technical and infrastructure point of view.

The company had added space heating to the third level and would install a brand-new big screen for the north side.

Only soft infrastructure upgrades such as the electronics still needed to be finalised, and the stadium would be up and ready in time, he confirmed. - BuaNews