News from FIFA today announces that chief Sepp Blatter has spoken to three unnamed countries about possibly replacing South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. Officially the announcement states that it would only occur if a 'natural catastrophe' would prevent the African nation from hosting the world's most important sporting event. But it seems the real reason for the 'Plan B' scenarios are due to the increasingly likely security issues and shortcomings in stadium and infrastructure construction. While the countries remain anonymous at this point, one must assume that England is one, based on it's plethora of enormous and modern grounds. Spain is another likely location as Barcelona and Madrid each have monstrous stadia up to the task of hosting such an event.
The best example of this kind of a situation is the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. For years leading up to the games, concerns were voiced over the speed with which venues were being constructed. Many feared shoddy construction and incomplete infrastructure. On top of all this, there were great security fears as Greece is not always the safest of places and Athens is notoriously dirty and sometimes dangerous. These premature criticisms lasted nearly to the opening ceremonies. But once the games began, the host city and nation gracefully put on the games without incident.
Things should go similarly in South Africa. Great cities such as Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg will host many games, as well as other lesser cities. The new Durban Stadium will hold 70,000 fans and sit near the Golden Mile. Green Point in Cape Town will be built to hold 70,000 and the Newlands pitch, usually used for rugby union, can be used in the off-chance that Green Point is not complete. Ellis Park in Johannesburg will be revamped and the gleaming new Soccer City stadium will be the host of the final with almost 95,000 seats. Three new stadia will be constructed and others renovated, each holding at least 40,000. While some of these are in fact behind schedule and over cost, this is simply the world in which we now live. Were there stadia being renovated and constructed in the US or UK (Wembley Stadium anyone?) isn't it safe to say that they too would face similar issues?
While there have been severe riots and security struggles in Jo'burg this year, there is no guarantee that there will be in two years. And like in Greece four years ago, the populace will eventually understand the unbelievable value of hosting the Cup and the even greater stigma that would come if the country had it stripped less than two years away. Things may be behind schedule now, but they will be satisfactorily complete when the opening kick takes place at Soccer City in Jo'burg on June 11, 2010.
FIFA has done enough to humiliate and alienate African countries over the years. The last thing they need to do is bar Africa from its crowning athletic achievement in the waning days before it hosts. While it is not a referendum on Africa as a whole, this tournament is vitally important to the growing importance of the sport on the continent. It cannot be taken away.
England and Spain are surely attractive sites and would bring in the requisite fans and intensity. But this is Africa's turn on the world's stage, for the very first time. Mr. Blatter, do not undermine their efforts with more announcements of this nature.