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Johannesburg - A chaotic ticketing system. A faltering national team. And a crisis-ridden host national football association mired in a match-fixing scandal. But in a week when Bafana Bafana take on Cape Verde at the National Stadium, Joburg will kick-start Africa’s orange football showpiece.
On Friday, the local organising committee (LOC) of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) insisted South Africa was ready to host a successful soccer tournament.
Mwelo Nonkonyana, the LOC chairman, said it had put plans in place to ensure every team and visitor would be provided with an environment to enjoy the tournament and compete equally.
“The orange Afcon 2013 awaits us,” he said.
“We’ll receive a multitude of people on our shores. Let them feel the beat at Africa’s feet. Let us receive them with the spirit of ubuntu as we celebrate Africa.”
Organisers have barely sold over 300 000 of the 500 000 tickets on sale with fans complaining of struggling to access the selected SuperSpar ticketing retail outlets and of a frustrating ticketing call centre.
Even Gauteng MEC for sports, arts, culture and recreation Lebogang Maile launched a scathing attack on the inefficient ticketing system this week.
“There were challenges with the distribution system and our displeasure and disappointment is that we were not organising a tournament of this magnitude for the first time,” he told the Saturday Star.
“We shouldn’t not know how to do it. We should be excelling. We’re not impressed. But to engage in a blame game now will defocus preparations.
“We’ll raise our unhappiness with the LOC and Safa so that we avoid this in the future. There must be efficiency.”
In Gauteng, over 55 000 tickets have been sold for the opening game at a stadium that can seat 90 000. And ticket sales are reportedly picking up.
But poor marketing has also dogged the tournament.
The LOC said it had been bogged down by a “cash flow problem”, which had “hampered operations and impacted in the areas of marketing and mobilisation of the public to buy tickets, as well as generating hype for the tournament”.
Maile called on South Africans to rally behind Bafana Bafana and the rest of the soccer spectacle. “We’d like people to bear with us and understand and try to attend games in large numbers, support Bafana Bafana and welcome visitors.
“Let’s make the best of this experience.”
The government had subsidised Afcon to the tune of R461 million. “We’ve made the money available to create a conducive environment; the security agencies are ready. “These are just minor glitches that should not detract, or take away from the overall tournament,” Maile added.
Veteran sports commentator Mark Gleeson said expectations of a repeat of the hype and euphoria witnessed during the 2010 Soccer World Cup were unrealistic.
“How do you measure vibe? People could be in shebeens tonight talking about Afcon the whole night. You can’t judge the whole tournament before it even starts,” he said, adding that during the World Cup, the last week of excitement “came quite out of the blue”.
“Afcons are notoriously poorly supported by locals. It’s an African phenomenon, not a South African thing. I do think people must be realistic.
“You’re asking people in Nelspruit to watch Ethiopia versus Burkina Faso? I’d rather watch Binnelanders… As much as I like the African Nations Cup, I don’t expect the same enthusiasm from everyone. But you couldn’t cock it (the tournament) up. Everything is there, the infrastructure is there.”
Bafana Bafana skipper Bongani Khumalo appealed to supporters on Friday to refrain from jeering and booing players on the pitch as it dented players’ confidence.
“It’s something you don’t want to see happen. I can’t see how that would help any player at any moment of the game,” he said before the final warm-up clash with Algeria in Soweto today.
Organisers hope the event will attract over 40 000 visitors. Thulani Nzima, chief executive of SA Tourism, said Afcon was an important marketing opportunity “further to grow tourist arrivals from regional Africa, which is by a long way SA’s most important tourism region, contributing over 73% of our total tourist volume in 2011 and over R50bn in revenue.
“We’re very excited that some of our key long-haul tourist markets in regional Africa, namely Nigeria, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have qualified while we also have an exciting opportunity to attract new African markets and ones that have been showing great potential.”
SA Tourism had worked hard with trade partners in Angola, DRC, Nigeria and Kenya to make it easy for regional African football fans to spend time in SA during the championship with special packages and deals and had conducted an extensive marketing campaign on the continent.
The rest of Africa’s top soccer teams are expected to jet into the country over the next week with seven teams in the country so far including Angola, Zambia, Mali and Algeria.