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SA passion conquers glitches

2010-06-16 10:41
Rob Houwing

So we’re a nose ahead of the juggernaut Germany four years ago in attendance terms at the 2010 World Cup thus far!

With no special reason to assume gates will suddenly dip as the event nudges closer to more compelling knockout football, that is cause for substantial national pride.

Aspects of the current World Cup are, I’m sure, going to continue to draw some frowns and gripes: already I am personally aware of some veteran British and Asian journalists, in particular, who believe this is one of the more chaotic ones from a media-friendliness and organisational point of view.

We will keep hearing, too, tales of park-and-ride snags and erratic or mysteriously AWOL public transport, despite vigorous promises to the contrary, in some centres.

But if this World Cup proves a success in broadest terms – and the early portents are reasonably rosy – then the wonderful fans who are colouring and enriching it will have been a major factor in that outcome.

FIFA revealed on Tuesday that after 11 matches the average gate was 53 019: 1 000 higher, on the nail, to the apparent 52 019 at the equivalent stage of Germany 2006.

Already that figure stands higher than the overall average attendances for all three prior World Cups, including South Korea/Japan 2002 (42 269) and France 1998 (43 517).

The full German figure four years back ended up as 52 491.

It is a glowing state of affairs, when you consider the global recessionary climate that has cruelly clouded the maiden African spectacle, and the distance required by so many enthusiasts anyway to get to South Africa.

That we are well ahead of France ’98, for instance, is remarkable: that is a genuinely first-world country, surrounded by various other populous and affluent nations whose soccer fans can criss-cross borders with ease and great convenience, considering high-speed transport networks and the like.

Of the more “modern” World Cups, only the United States in 1994 eclipses South Africa as things stand – then the average gate for the completed tournament was 68 991.

Bear in mind the US’s huge expatriate community, lured from across the planet, and also the fact that seven of the nine venues used then had capacities of over 60 000 and four of them held more than 75 000.

Look, too, at the big, sophisticated hosting cities: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Dallas, Boston, Washington and Orlando – here we are daringly but enterprisingly staging games at such backwaters as Nelspruit and Rustenburg.

It is becoming increasingly clear, into the bargain, that vast numbers of strictly South African-based people, both citizens and non-citizens, are embracing the tournament in a meaningful way.

While chatting to a Dutch journalist in slow-moving shuttle to a Soccer City match this week, he said it was estimated that only some 6 000 Dutch fans will fly out to South Africa on known “package” deals, a figure revised well downward from initial expectations of around treble that and even more.

Yet the striking aspect of Holland’s match against Denmark at the imposing ground (official gate almost 84 000) was that it virtually seemed like a home match for the Dutch, such was the sea of orange and vibrancy of support for the team.

The journalist said it had been reported back home that significant numbers of Dutch people living in cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg would be following the national team from centre to centre.

And whether or not Bafana Bafana make it to the next round – won’t it be brilliant for the nationwide buzz if they do? – South Africans appear to be getting behind various preferred “second teams” with enthusiasm.

In Pretoria on Sunday, for instance, it was heart-warming, considering certain ever-bubbling issues of xenophobia toward fellow-Africans to the “north”, to see so many local people (evident from their Bafana shirts) getting behind Ghana in their victory over Serbia at a truly throbbing, multi-cultural Loftus.

To think that the World Cup has barely begun, with some countries yet to even play as I write this … yes, things are looking good, despite those few off-field hiccups which may even be ironed out if the right people are listening.

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Rob is Sport24's chief writer

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

Sport24's Rob Houwing is on the road, following the 2010 Soccer World Cup
Read more on: rob houwing south africa

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