Johannesburg - Sports minister Fikile Mbalula is confident the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will be a success, despite initial hiccups in the organising of the tournament that kicks off in Johannesburg on Saturday.
While Mbalula believed the Local Organising Committee (LOC) could have approached issues such as ticketing differently, he was adamant that stadiums would be filled.
“I don’t draw strength from lamenting the difficulties; we have all observed that things could have been done differently,” Mbalula said at a briefing in Pretoria on the state of readiness for the tournament.
“To mobilise South African people for a soccer match, it doesn’t take a difficult merger of mobilisation. Tell South Africans the date and the time and where to get the tickets, they will be there.”
The LOC had come under scrutiny after reports of poor ticket sales and processing, and a weak marketing campaign ahead of the continental football showpiece.
Mbalula said the arrangements for fans to purchase tickets were over-complicated, as supporters had to buy their tickets in advance, via a specific process.
The ticketing problems had since been cleared up, Mbalula said, and he called on South Africans to get behind the tournament, held for the second time on South African soil.
“We are on track largely, and I am happy with the response we are getting and the mobilisation that we put out there and people responding to the excitement.”
He said he believed the tournament would leave a legacy similar to what the country had experienced following the 2010 World Cup.
“The tournament would be viewed across the globe, and the spin-off for that is that tourism would increase, and there would be about 10 000 temporary jobs created,” Mbalula said.
“Social cohesion, bringing the nation together among others, is going to be important; inspiring the youth will be the biggest spin-off for the country.”
Mbalula said a plan had been put in place to clamp down on match-fixing, but he would not divulge details saying only that referees would be treated in a different way.
Turning his attention to Bafana Bafana, he hoped the team would rise to the occasion when they took to the field in their opening match against Cape Verde in Johannesburg on Saturday.
He said South African supporters tended to judge the team even before the start of the matches and appealed to fans to rather get behind Bafana Bafana.
“Let’s give them a chance: let’s support the team and let’s look where they go,” he said.
“The boys have been spoken to by more than one person so they understand… let’s release them.”