Special: Nelspruit's Mbombela Stadium - An 'African' Arena Fit For The 2010 World Cup

During the Confederations Cup, Goal.com was fortunate enough to go behind-the-scenes at what is shaping up to be a beautiful stadium for the 2010 World Cup - the Mbombela Stadium in the South African city of Nelspruit.
One of the exciting aspects of the 2010 World Cup being in South Africa is that we get the chance to see new stadia and what kind of football fan doesn’t like that? 

And not just any new arenas: Just as the 2002 World Cup introduced us to the finest stadia that Asia had to offer, next year we will get a glimpse of some amazing African constructions.  

Soccer City in Soweto looks special as Goal.com found out last week and earlier this week, we visited the Mbombela Stadium (the name means ‘many people together in a small space’ in the siSwati language) in the in the city of Nelspruit.

The city lies 330 kilometres to the east of Johannesburg and will be one of the nine hosts in less than twelve months’ time. 

The land was broken; land whose ownership has been the source of some dispute, in February 2007 and it is due to be completed by mid-to-late September.

 At the peak of construction, 1,300 people were on site and working to build what will be by far the best public sporting arena east of Johannesburg, through the province of Mpumalanga, through Mozambique and all the way to the Indian Ocean.  

The end may be in sight but Leon Botha, the senior engineering technician, is still a busy man. He found a little time however, on a warm mid-winter’s day to talk to Goal.com.

“The most difficult part was labour,” he said. “We had some industrial action here which was deemed illegal by the contractor. Also, it has actually been quite hard to find people with the technical skills –foremen, supervisors. We just didn’t know how to build stadiums in South Africa.” 

That has changed now with world-class arenas springing up all over the Rainbow Nation. The Mbombela Stadium is located in one of the poorer provinces and has used local labour and materials whenever possible.

The provincial capital was moved to Nelspruit shortly before it was announced that the 2010 World Cup was heading to the banks of the Crocodile River. The former triggered a boom that the latter added impetus to.

Not much more than a resting place on the road between Joburg and Maputo a decade or so ago, the city (whose name means Nel’s stream) is one of the fastest-growing in the country. 

New roads are winding the way across the place and more are planned. Next to my hotel, a shopping mall was under construction and the future looks bright. But all are aware that this is a lot of hard work for 360 minutes of football in 2010.

Legacy is important especially in this province and especially as the city doesn’t have its own professional football or rugby teams to use it. Botha is sure however that the Mbombela will become a popular fixture in these parts.  

“This will be a multi-purpose stadium. We can have rugby games here, football, concerts. There’s no other place like it in the province or even in Mozambique. We will have hockey fields around the stadium, a local game called ringball, there will be a gymnasium, shops, conference and wedding facilities etc.”  

Walking around what will be the pitch, there is a pleasant airy feeling about the place. This is despite the fact that fans are going to be close to the action on the pitch.

The giraffe-shapes that ring the stadium are distinctive and imaginative, the zebra-style seating is unique and the feeling that this is going to be a great place to watch football next year unshakable.    

“We are in the bush here,” says Botha, “and we hope that the stadium is part of the bush and inside the bush. As well as the giraffes and the zebra seating, we think the geography of the stadium is special; it is part of the environment. There is a fantastic natural ambience about the stadium.” 

“Barring unforeseen problems, we should be finished in September. The deadline is October.” 

Then the countdown really begins.

John Duerden

Nelspruit, South Africa