Worries for AFCON organisers
Johannesburg - Less money from the government and early problems with ticket sales have left organisers for next year's African Cup of Nations with significant challenges and threaten to take the shine off South Africa's widely praised hosting of the 2010 World Cup.
In a frank discussion with reporters on Wednesday, local organising committee chief executive Mvuzo Mbebe said his body hadn't received as much money from government as hoped to organise the January 19 to February 10 tournament.
"Yes, there's going to be challenges," Mbebe said, adding that the budget for advertising the tournament would likely be cut as a result.
Organisers are yet to roll out an advertising campaign despite the event kicking off in just over two months.
There also were issues with local ticketing outlets, the LOC conceded, after organisers had already prepared themselves for a smaller financial commitment from government and less interest from fans than when the country successfully pulled off soccer's biggest show by hosting Africa's first soccer World Cup.
Having given a huge amount of money to the World Cup effort, the South African government last week allocated R461m ($51 million) to the Cup of Nations, with only R82m going to LOC for operational costs.
"We know it's not all the money requested from government, but government has got other priorities, which they've shared with us. We've accepted that," Mbebe said. "We will just have to adjust here and there and make sure we still do the things that need to be done.
"Would I have not wanted a little bit more money to make sure we can promote things? Yes, it would have been ideal."
The LOC has money from corporate sponsors, Mbebe said, and there had been strong interest in match tickets from countries like Ethiopia and defending champion Zambia, plus a "tremendous amount" of interest from corporate buyers.
But regular fans had experienced problems purchasing tickets from some of the 309 authorised shop outlets in South Africa, and the LOC said it was aware of the "significant challenges" of ensuring tickets were easily available.
The African Cup is already a notoriously difficult event to ensure stadiums are filled and make money from because of the continent's generally poor soccer supporters and a relative lack of interest in many of the teams participating in the 16-nation tournament.
Mbebe said organisers had sold more than 19 000 tickets in the initial release, almost twice as many as they had projected. But they still have the daunting task of trying to sell over 350 000 by the end of the year. South Africa wants to sell at least 500 000 for the entire tournament.
The absence of Egypt and Cameroon, two of Africa's most successful teams and who failed to qualify, also meant a reduced audience.
There were disadvantages that couldn't be avoided after South Africa took the tournament at short notice when Libya was ruled out as a host because of security concerns. That gave the government less time to put money aside. The unique format of the African Cup, which has many group games being played back-to-back in the same stadium on the same day, results in some fans being reluctant to stay for both matches.
Bafana Bafana play Cape Verde in the opening game of the tournament on January 19, but there could be a near-empty stadium for the following game between Angola and Morocco. At the last African Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea some games not involving the two co-hosts were played in front of numerous empty seats.
South Africa had approached the Confederation of African Football to rethink the double-headers, but it is "in the tradition of the tournament," Mbebe said. "We couldn't move away from that concept."
In the hope of motivating South Africans to once again show the overwhelming support that was evident in 2010, the LOC did say vuvuzelas - the blaring horns made famous at the World Cup - would be allowed into stadiums.
Following 2010, vuvuzelas were banned in UEFA's European club competitions and at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, as well as various cricket and tennis stadiums and the NFL. But African Cup organisers hope they can help South Africans feel wanted at games next January and February.
"Vuvuzelas are part of our culture and our soccer nation. They are instruments of enjoyment, and up until there is an issue they will be part of this tournament," Mbebe said.