South Africa : 2010 clock strikes 500 days to kick-off

The world is watching in anticipation as stadiums go up, roads and highways are built or upgraded, and a country once faced with overwhelming odds draws closer to hosting the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet, writes Michael Appel.

In exactly 500 days, about three billion eyes will watch in anticipation as the coveted event touches down in Africa for the first time in history.

While such a spectacle will always draw its sceptics and share of pessimists, it is the responsibility of the public, private and business sectors, as well as the public at large to cast aside blanket views of failure for the country.

One of the most positive spin-offs for the country is the massive influx of foreigners destined for South Africa's sunny shores, and the investment they bring with them.

Among those industries set to boom in a massive way over at least the next five years are the hotel, tourism, transport, restaurant and catering industries, and of course, what is referred to as South Africa's second economy, small scale entrepreneurs and artisans.

One of South Africa's biggest challenges is ensuring public transport is efficient, tourists and South Africans are safe, and world cup matches kick off without hindrance.

Local Organising Committee (LOC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Danny Jordaan, maintains preparations are coming along well and stadiums are between 60 - 90 percent complete already.

Airport infrastructure, which is another vital part of ensuring a smooth and co-ordinated event, is also up to speed with upgrades taking place at OR Tambo International, Cape Town and Durban International Airports as well as the building of La Mercy Airport.

The South African government has made available more than R31 billion to support preparations for the tournament, and these funds are being spent to deliver on the 17 guarantees the Government made to FIFA.

Dr Jordaan said the world cup alone will create about 450 000 jobs helping to alleviate poverty and stimulate the local economy at a time when much of the developed world heads into economic recession.

The Government's 2010 Unit on Sunday highlighted that Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban is sitting at 69 percent complete, Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane is 55 percent complete, Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg is 64 percent complete and Cape Town's Green Point Stadium is 38 percent complete.

Nelspruit's Mbombela Stadium is currently at about 61 percent complete and Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Stadium is slightly further along at 70 percent completion.

"More than R136 million has been allocated by the Department of Minerals and Energy to the 9 Host Cities for the upgrading of the electricity networks.

"All upgrades will be completed in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup host cities and other 2010 FIFA World Cup host cities by April/May 2009," the Government's 2010 unit reported.

As a FIFA requirement, all stadiums being used during the world cup have to run primarily off generators, with grid electricity as a secondary power source.

All generators will be arriving in February 2009 and be installed and commissioned by March this year.

Accommodation and the number of available rooms, as specified by FIFA's appointed hospitality and accommodation company MATCH, was a concern to organisers but plans are in place and thousands of non-hotel rooms are being graded for the world cup.

"To date, more than 4 673 non-hotel rooms and 25 602 hotel rooms have been signed up and the grading process continues. Base camps hotels have now been identified by MATCH and are waiting final approval from FIFA," the Government's 2010 unit said.

Although South Africa is only 500 days from hosting the most watched sporting event on the planet, the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, featuring the six continental giants, the current world champions and the world cup host nation, is a mere four and a half months away with palpable excitement growing. - BuaNews