Who will host Africa's World Cup 2010?
For World Cup 2010, guaranteed to Africa, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia are the remaining bidders for the publicity and economic windfall as billions of people around the world tune in to pictures from the host nation during the month-long duration of football fever.
Since the success of Cameroon in reaching the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup, there has been an increasing global awareness of the huge potential of African football, which could one day challenge the supremacy of the South American and European nations. In fact, no African team has, as yet, bettered that performance by Cameroon--led memorably by the veteran Roger Milla, whose goals and dancing celebrations lit up Italia '90--although other national teams like Senegal and Nigeria have beaten top sides in early games of more recent tournaments.
Hosting the event would be a golden opportunity for one African team to shine, playing in front of their own supporters in familiar conditions, besides the luxury of not having to qualify through eliminatory groups and therefore being able to train uninterruptedly for the finals. Despite the pressure of expectation, host nations have traditionally exceeded themselves. France, of course, won their first ever World Cup at home in 1998, while 2002's joint-host, South Korea, reached the semi-finals, having knocked out Italy and Spain on the way!
FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) inspection teams have now visited all five candidate nations and the final decision is due to be taken in May be a voting committee comprising representatives from 24 national football associations. There was controversy over the selection process for the 2006 finals, after the New Zealand delegate defied the wishes of his national association by switching his crucial vote from South Africa to Germany amid rumours of aggressive lobbying by the latter concerning South Africa's crime problems.
This was the background to FIFA's decision to limit bids for 2010 to countries from the continent considered unlucky in losing out in 2006. South Africa may feel the honour is theirs by right, but there is real competition from the North African nations. Nigeria was also planning a bid, but belatedly pulled out and threw its support behind the South African bid.
Whatever happens, nobody can relax until it is all over. The winning nation will have six years to construct and refurbish its stadiums and put in place the entire supporting infrastructure, while the other national squads will be desperate to at least win a place through qualifying for the first African World Cup.
South Africa definitely starts as favourite to win the bid. This is partly because of the perception that it was 'robbed' of the 2006 tournament, but also because of the inter-racial symbolism that the country's sporting achievements have attained since the sporting boycott was lifted after the fall of apartheid.
Traditional team sports, like cricket, rugby and football, have been used to attempt to bond whites and blacks, with selection procedures ensuring that national teams be multiracial. The image of Nelson Mandela handing the Rugby World Cup trophy to the triumphant, and predominantly white, Springbok side in 1995 was seen as symbolic of a merging of different colours into one nation.
Since hosting that successful rugby tournament, the country has organised several other major sporting events, including the All Africa Games in 1999 and the Cricket World Cup in 2003.
Bafana Bafana, as the national football team is known, have become one of Africa's most feared sides, becoming African champions in 1996--again on home soil--and competing in the last two football World Cups.
The five-man inspection team that visited South Africa last November made no secret of the favourable impression they had received. The delegation head Jan Peeters mentioned that the five inspectors were all "extremely moved" by visiting Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Mandela told the delegation that awarding South Africa the tournament would be a tribute to the country's peaceful transition to multiracial democracy.
Aside from the emotion factor, South Africa already has enough stadiums of the size and quality required by FIFA, and its tourism and telecommunications infrastructures are probably the best in the continent.
The most populous of the bidding nations. Egypt combines footballing pedigree with its world-wide renown as a glamorous tourist destination, making it a serious contender to South Africa. Twice a qualifier for the World Cup finals, the Egyptian national team has won an impressive four African Nations Cups.
Egypt is the highest ranked nation by FIFA among those bidding, but more important than its playing prowess is the fact that Egypt has hosted three African championships, although none since 1986. While South African cities have crime problems, the threat of terrorism is bound to be a concern in Egypt. The potential for spillover from the conflict in neighbouring Palestine and terrorist acts by radical Islamists must be weighed. Since the 1997 massacre of foreign tourists in Luxor, the authorities have averted further terrorist acts of this type and receive around five million tourists a year.
Egypt has a competitive football league, whose champions regularly achieve success in the continental club competitions. Last December, however, ugly incidents during and after the second leg of the Champions League final in the Egyptian city of Ismailia may have done irreparable damage to the country's bid. The local side lost the cup to Enyimba of Nigeria and some supporters took their frustration onto the streets.
Hicham Azmy, a member of Egypt's bid committee, played down the incident, pointing out that "worse things, such as people dying, have been witnessed in other countries at similar occasions", adding "we won't play matches in Ismailia if we host the World Cup". This would leave Egypt needing to find another stadium to add to those already planned, like the stylish design for a monumental stadium at Giza.
Of all the candidates, Morocco's package has the most stylish look to it, with infra-structural improvements underway and several spanking new stadiums projected. Despite qualifying for four World Cups and winning an African Nations Cup, Morocco has little experience as a host-nation of sporting events. The Moroccan team point out, however, that they were the first African nation to be considered an official candidate to host a World Cup--back in 1994.
As a contrast to the recent experience in Egypt, the head of the FIFA delegation said he was impressed with the sporting nature of the rivalry at a Casablanca derby match between Wydad and Raja. The latter is Morocco's top team with five African club trophies under its belt.
The business-friendly government is fully committed to the bid. Transport infrastructure is being improved and regarding the sporting venues themselves, three stadiums already exist and need minor upgrading, three are already under construction, and building of three more will begin should Morocco win the race.
Perhaps most impressively, around 4bn Dirhams has already been budgeted in the period 2004-10, with 140m Dirhams already placed in a Swiss bank account to cover any potential shortfalls. For the use of the international media, an exhibition centre is already reserved for the purpose in Casablanca.
Clearly, the terrorist attacks in Casablanca last May will count against Morocco, but it can already count on the support of France. Michel Platini, ex-player and delegate to FIFA, said Morocco was "the best placed to attract the organisation". South Africa, watch out!
Tunisia's bid may be less spectacular, but it is based on a proven ability to organise and, most importantly, finance developments and events, such is the strength of the Tunisian economy. Tunisia has also become a tourist destination to rival Egypt. The stadiums being proposed in the Tunisian bid are mostly medium-sized with the minimum capacity of 45,000, but they do have the advantage of a timely shop window as Tunisia is hosting the 2004 African Nations Cup, running from 24 January to 14 February.
As a footballing nation, Tunisia's progress has been steady if unspectacular, qualifying for three World Cup finals--including the last two events--and reaching the final of the African Nations Cup twice without claiming the trophy. Etoile Sahel recently established themselves as a top African club side by winning the Cup Winners' Cup.
While Tunisia's bid is a plausible one owing to its financial stability and advanced telecommunication infrastructure, the idea of a joint-bid with Libya seems to be dead in the water. The FIFA inspection teams have made it clear that they are observing each country as a separate case and any merging of interest is a political question for the governments concerned. It seems late in the day for such a resolution to take place convincingly.
Otherwise, Libya's bid seems to be doomed to failure. The country has a dubious international status--although the recent lifting of UN sanctions and opening up to weapons inspections have helped. The Libyan national team have no record to speak of, never having qualified for the World Cup proper, despite the great enthusiasm shown for the game by Colonel Muammar al Qathafi. His son, Al-Saadi Qathafi, is a professional footballer for the Italian Serie A side Perugia, but the fact that he recently tested positive for a banned substance can be taken as a bad omen for Libya's 2010 bid.
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|Title Annotation:||Sporting Business|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2004|
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