There is a common misconception that since South Africa successfully hosted the 2010 World Cup, the hosting of the 2013 Afcon will be a walk in the park
Compared to hosting the World Cup, welcoming the continent for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations is a totally different ball game. Africa’s premier football event comes with its own unique set of challenges and one of South Africa’s dangers is to underestimate the task ahead of them.
Unfortunately, the failure to address these main challenges soon enough, led to Cape Town falling out of the race to host the tournament. Initially, it would be unthinkable to imagine that the Mother City would not even host a single game during the Afcon.
Now, South Africa needs to keep their eye on the ball. The game is not up yet. They can still turn it around by focussing all their attention on improving the readiness of Nelspruit, Rustenburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Surprisingly, Johannesburg will only host the opening and closing matches.
So, why not give Cape Town a single game? Living in Cape Town, I recall the disappointment of the people even in 2010 when they were not awarded a Bafana game. Nevertheless the fans poured into the streets by the hundreds of thousands to support their nation during the World Cup.
Sadly, once again there is fear that the city will be unable to control the crowds. It is a complicated issue which is rooted in a number of historical and current problems resulting from organising the sporting event.
Firstly, one needs to understand the context of modern South Africa. The tournament comes too soon after the Lonmin's miners’ strike, the massacre of 34 protesters in August. The countries economy has been dealt a heavy blow with the losses incurred in the mining industry during the strike.
Questions were already asked of the South African Football Association (Safa) and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) concerning the R400 million cost to host the tournament.
City ratepayers are projected to contribute R20 million per city towards the tournament, another factor which is causing an ill feeling amongst many locals amidst worldwide economic problems. There are also fears with regard to the police forces' security task, intensified due to their strained reputation with the public during the labour strikes.
There is also the fear of xenophobia, but those attacks occurred back in 2008 and 2009. Even after that situation subsided, one would notice that thousands of South Africans supported the rest of Africa, between Bafana games. When South Africa gets knocked out, the country tends to support the next remaining African team.
Other than the locals, there were hundreds of thousands of African fans travelling overland from across the continent for the World Cup. Many of these fans were even coming from countries that did not qualify for the tournament. If there is any doubt about the genuine feelings in welcoming fellow Africans, then the Afcon is the ideal stage to prove it and heal the mistakes of three years ago.
One of the main concerns ahead of the January showpiece is the low spectator turnouts seen at previous Afcon competitions and even local Premier Soccer League (PSL) games. Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium only attracted 7,500 fans during a World Cup qualifier between Bafana Bafana and Ethiopia earlier this year. Safa has already moved to solve this problem by providing relatively cheaper tickets.
Most of the public's concerns about costs, security and other challenges were also shared during the World Cup. The LOC has been working tirelessly to solve each challenge, and during the Soccerex African Forum on 23-24 October in Durban, LOC CEO Mvuzo Mbebe will tackle these challenges.
Mbebe’s speech is titled, ‘Delivering the Cup of Nations: Hosting Africa’s Premier Football Event’. Together with other industry experts they will examine South Africa's logistical and sporting challenges for the Cup.
After the last day of Soccerex, the Afcon draw will also take place across the city in Durban, where the coaches of all 16 nations and well-known African football figures will be present. This will be the ideal time for Soccerex to showcase their intent in developing football across Africa, by highlighting the need for growth and investment in football on the continent.
After all, the economics of football and proper planning with that subject in mind is one of the main concerns in hosting two major events during the course of three years.