Johannesburg - Next year’s Africa Cup of Nations should not be billed as a Bafana Bafana tournament and the event should be supported in its entirety, Local Organising Committee (LOC) chief executive Mvuzo Mbebe said on Monday.
Most of the interest from South Africans so far has related to the national team, which faces the Cape Verde Islands in the competition opener at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium on January 19.
Durban-based South Africa will play Angola four days later, before concluding their Group A fixtures against Morocco on January 27.
"This tournament should not be billed as a Bafana Bafana tournament, because if that is the case then we will be saying to the public that if Bafana Bafana does not perform, let’s not go to the stadiums," said Mbebe.
"This is incorrect. It should be immaterial whether they perform or not."
Mbebe pointed towards a recent friendly in Rustenburg for proof that other countries could also draw big crowds.
He said: "We must not make the mistake of always talking of Bafana Bafana as the driver of the ticket sales.
"This has been proven in the past, the most notable of those times coming when we played Ethiopia in Rustenburg when there were more spectators there for the visiting team than there were for Bafana Bafana.
"These are people that are here and it is the same for various other countries that will participate in the tournament. These fans are here and will also attend games."
Apart from the local stars, the competition also features continental powerhouses the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Mali, whose star-studded squads mainly ply their trades in the top European leagues.
Mbebe said that this in itself should be a major drawcard for locals.
"This tournament is an African tournament," he said. "We’ve got a responsibility as Africans and South Africans to support it, irrespective of who’s playing.
"Most of the players that are coming to this tournament play in Europe and they will be here.
"We support them day in and day out for their club teams and I’m really hoping we can support them at international level as well."
Ticket sales for the finals, which run until February 10, have not been moving along at any great pace with just under 40 000 sold.
The organisers are not concerned at the number, which is reportedly sluggish due to the access to SuperSpar stores by fans - just over 200 of a targeted 309 Spar outlets have rolled out the sales process so far.
An estimated 800 000 tickets will be made available for the tournament, but Mbebe revealed that the LOC will be extremely pleased if 500 000 of those are sold.
"I think realistically that this will be achieved," he said.
Apart from Durban, matches will be played in Nelspruit, Port Elizabeth and Rustenburg.
The Ivorians are in Group D, alongside former champions Algeria and Tunisia as well as Togo, while Group C features the Ghanaians, Mali, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Defending champions Zambia will play Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia in Group C.