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SBD/Issue 187/Events & Attractions
World Cup Roundtable: South Africa's Preparedness Examined
Published June 11, 2010
THE DAILY today offers the first of our FIFA World Cup roundtables taking a look at South Africa's preparations for the event and just how much of a success the first World Cup in Africa will be. George Washington Univ. associate professor of tourism & sports management Lisa Delphi Neirotti, Helios Partners VP Lou Lauria and Georgetown Univ. Sports Industry Management program Associate Dean Matt Winkler, all of whom are or will soon be in South Africa, took time out to speak with THE DAILY on these and other issues prior to Friday's start of the World Cup.
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Q: How ready does South Africa seem for the event from your own impressions?
Neirotti: Although people may be working 20+ hours to prepare, things seem on track and should be ready. Transportation and security are two concerns but fortunately, lessons were learned and adjustments made based on recent events. The venues were all ready and turned over to FIFA and now it is up to the numerous international experts who were selected to manage the different venues and work with the local staff and volunteers.
It seems like many of the shops in the airport corridors, the wings connecting both terminals, are not yet open. In fact, there were only 2 kiosks for phone or internet gear and the queue was unbelievable. Only two stores sell SIM cards and Internet gear (Vodafone is one). The line was so long, that airport security personnel came into the store of Vodafone asking the manager to make it run faster. The manager explained he only had three people scheduled because there are only three terminals to process the sale. It seems like lines will be the norm during the tournament. Also, there is a lot of side road construction still taking place. Although it all looks colorful, we can tell they are rushing to get it all done by Friday. Internet connections do not seem to work well.
Lauria: They appear to be ready and this event is of national importance so there is the full commitment of the government and local authorities to deliver this event to South Africa’s highest standard. I think people will be quite impressed with some of the new stadiums that have been constructed. In addition to the venues, the infrastructure projects for which events like this serve as a catalyst are impressive. The one observation that I found interesting was how apparently the experience of hosting the 1995 IRB Rugby World Cup and the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup was not leveraged in the hosting of the FIFA World Cup by local organizers. (For example, I am not aware of any senior leadership positions being filled by people from the previously mentioned major events.) In most environments the domestic event expertise is put to good use in future events (e.g. Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games).
Q: How easy/difficult has making your preparations for this World Cup been?
Winkler: It has been very streamlined for us, primarily thanks to the work of our partners, The University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) and U.S. Soccer Federation. We also hired a resident from Johannesburg to be on the ground to help with logistics for our group of 15.
Neirotti: At first it was difficult to decide which cities to visit and where we should stay. I contacted numerous official hospitality providers as well as MATCH [Hospitality] and all prices were too high for our budget. I then found out that the major universities in South Africa turned over their World Cup inventory to one group who managed reservations. Once I found this group the reservations were easy. I was also referred to two tour companies and am using both for different parts of our trip. These are local groups that explained how business is down due to World Cup gouging.
Q: What has the vibe been like in South Africa around the World Cup?
Neirotti: The vibe is unbelievable. Car horns, songs, loud crowds left and right day and night. The hostel where we are staying is near a highway and we can hear the sound of the horns all day. You can really feel the countdown ticking!
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Q: How much of an impact do you believe the stampede outside the Nigeria-North Korea friendly last weekend will have on the event moving forward?
Lauria: None really as that event had a ticketing policy contrary to that of FIFA. This event was not under FIFA or the LOCs control and most people recognize and understand that.
Winkler: I think it puts the security issue back on the front page ... and will serve as a reminder for the WCSA organization committee of its weaknesses and threats. As soon as the games begin, I think it will be forgotten.
Neirotti: Fans forget quickly so by the time many get there and get caught up in excitement they will forget. I do not see fans not attending due to this incident. It raised the importance to organizers to fortify and enforce strong security.
Q: How much of an overall success do you feel the World Cup in South Africa will be?
Neirotti: The tournament has already raised the profile of South Africa with thousands of pre-tournament media impressions, many focused on tourism opportunities in South Africa. Infrastructure improvements, especially in transportation and communication, have also been made that are a legacy. Numerous social programs have been implemented by FIFA and corporate sponsors that have improved the life of many South Africans both in the host cities as well as non-host cities. Finally, the pride of all South Africans is amazing and pulls the country, once divided, together.
Winkler: The product on the field will be outstanding ... as cool temperatures and evening matches will serve the players well in terms of run of play. Economically, for FIFA, the television and media ratings also set up for a boost as the European nations will have night games and domestically, ESPN is promoting their broadcast schedule tremendously to help justify the $100 million rights package. For South Africa, the hospitality industry has certainly been expanded but we will have to see long-term how much of the economic impact is spread around in the areas that need them the most. I also think that this is an opportunity to engage diversity. Socially and culturally, many of the FIFA sponsors have set up meaningful social impact and social accountability initiatives. This way, they are part of the culture of South Africa.
Lauria: I have always applauded the move by FIFA to award the World Cup to an African nation; this was an important step and FIFA took the initiative and the risk. The success of this event, and it will be successful, will result in other events being awarded to African nations. I think what we will see is a calibration based on the FIFA experience related to areas such as hospitality and ticketing to ensure that these programs are in alignment with the African marketplace.
Hopefully, Bafana Bafana gets off to a good start and if they can manage to advance into the knockout round that will go a long way in shaping the public perception of the event. Another factor that will contribute to the success of the event is sponsor activation, which appears to be quite high both domestically and internationally despite a tough global economy. Like all major events, they are vulnerable to critical media in the opening few days when events typically go through the process of implementing and modifying their operational planning. Then typically the media swings around 180 degrees to praise the event as it goes on to succeed (e.g. Vancouver 2010). It will be a different experience, an African experience and that is really the whole point. If it is not then we can just hold future major events in a small handful of countries that we know will consistently deliver them in the same manner, and not allow the rest of the world to participate. Whether it was Beijing 2008, or South Africa in 2010 or Rio in 2016 these events are all significant in their own right.