Connect to share and comment

1 year until South Africa hosts soccer World Cup

Hopes are high Africa's first World Cup will bring tourists and financial benefits.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – The countdown has begun: One year from now South Africa will host the soccer World Cup, the largest sports show on earth.

Being the first African country to organize such a massive tournament will offer a unique opportunity for a sports-mad nation that less than 20 years ago was excluded from most international competitions because of sanctions against the apartheid regime.

The World Cup will be an immense logistical challenge for South Africa, which despite having the continent’s largest economy, is plagued by a chronic skills shortage, widespread poverty and one of the world’s highest crime rates.

An avowed soccer fan, Macdonald Magida is looking forward to some great matches next year, but the unemployed Soweto resident said he also hopes South Africa’s organization of the World Cup is about more than sport: It’s about showcasing Africa’s ability to the rest of the world.

“It’s a dream, my brother. In history, it’s the first time such a big tournament comes to Africa,” Magida, 42, said. “We, Africans, can also host such big events like the World Cup.”

In terms of popular appeal, the World Cup is by far the biggest sporting event in the world. Germany’s edition three years ago attracted more than 26 billion cumulative television viewers. By comparison, last year’s Beijing Olympic Games, whose duration was about half that of the month-long soccer tournament, were followed by 4.7 billion people.

The economic impact of the World Cup on the host country is considerable. The South African government plans to spend a total of $2.2 billion for stadiums and infrastructure, and President Jacob Zuma said last week that more than 400,000 jobs have already been created, which is significant in a country with 23.5 percent unemployment. Local organizers expect 450,000 overseas visitors for the event, and consulting firm Grant Thornton estimates that the economic benefit to South Africa could reach $7 billion.

South Africans expect the positive impact of the tournament they simply call “twenty-ten” to extend beyond the final on July 11, 2010, with projections that tourist numbers will increase in subsequent years. Airports, roads and public transportation are undergoing major upgrades. Paul Bannister, acting chief executive of International Marketing Council of South Africa, a public-private partnership, said the World Cup has the potential to give a positive boost the country’s image the way the end of apartheid did.

“The elections of 1994 really changed the way the world thought of South Africa,” Bannister said. “Effectively, 2010 has the opportunity to take it to the next level.”