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World Cup heaven or hell?

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Simon Austin | 13:00 UK time, Monday, 30 November 2009

Kevin Miles is getting ready for his fourth World Cup as the representative of England's travelling fans and it looks likely to be his most challenging yet.

The 2006 tournament was relatively stress-free for the 48-year-old Geordie. The short haul meant thousands of supporters were able to make last-minute trips to Germany and they discovered excellent transport, plentiful accommodation and sympathetic policing when they arrived.

More than 150,000 England fans travelled out in total, dwarfing the support of just about every other nation, and things went so well that they were named fans of the tournament by Fifa.

Only the foolhardy will travel to South Africa "on spec" next summer though. In fact the Football Supporters' Federation is urging fans to book their trips as soon as the World Cup draw has been made in Cape Town on Friday and there is a special Foreign Office website to help them with their planning.

Although Miles, the international co-ordinator of the FSF, believes this can be a World Cup to remember for England fans, he still has three nagging worries about the tournament.

Number one is accommodation.

Although 25 new hotels have been built especially for the tournament and Fifa has contracted non-graded rooms for the first time - including University halls of residence in Pretoria, cruise liners in Port Elizabeth and safari park lodges near Polokwane - there are fears of a shortage of rooms for the 500,000 fans expected to arrive from around the world in South Africa next summer.

Fifa has even gone so far as to include Mauritius, which is a four-hour flight from South Africa, in its acommodation programme and will place some of its sponsors there.

Furthermore, the rooms which are available are likely to be expensive. Fans' first port of call when booking a room is likely to be Match, the Zurich-based company that Fifa has contracted to organise accommodation and ticketing for the 2010 World Cup.

The company has hired 80% of the graded rooms in South Africa and 13% of the non-graded ones for the duration of the tournament.

capetownstadiumgetty595.jpgThe new Cape Town stadium with Table Mountain in the background

Match has based its prices on "rack rates" - the price you would pay if you turned up and asked for a room for the night - already given to them by these hotels and guesthouses.

Fifa argues this is the best way of preventing prices being inflated close the World Cup, yet there is no proof that the rates supplied were accurate.

Fans might also be interested to know that Match will take a hefty 30% commission for each booking it organises.

The alternative is for fans to try and book rooms direct from hotels or another broker yet the truth is that this is unlikely to be any cheaper.

There are even suggestions that hotel prices could go up by as much as 300% next summer, which is why Miles is imploring South African hotels to be reasonable.

"It would be short-sighted to regard the World Cup as a four-week opportunity to take advantage of foreign tourists," he told me.

"It's far better to create an impression that will encourage people to return to the country in years to come. That's what happened with Germany - there was a big hike in tourism after 2006."

Camping, which was so popular with fans at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, will be out of the question this time, as temperatures often drop below zero in places like Johannesburg during the South African winter.

Miles' second worry is about internal transport within the country. South Africa is five times bigger than England and the teams at the World Cup will have to travel vast distances to play their matches.

In Group G one of the teams faces having to play a game in Johannesburg, followed by one in Cape Town, which is a distance of 880 miles or the equivalent of London to Warsaw.

That would take 17 hours to drive, while Miles warns that "flights will be in short supply and expensive".

Getting to and from the stadiums at last summer's Confederations Cup also proved something of a problem.

Miles admits: "There were teething problems with the shuttle buses from the park and rides and fans won't be able to rely on taxis in the way they did in Germany."

His third concern is, predictably, crime, which has been a major topic of conversation ever since South Africa was awarded the World Cup in 2004.

Everyone knows the country has a crime problem. Violent business robberies climbed 41.5% from April 2008 to March 2009, house robberies were up 27.3%, while there were 15,000 recorded carjackings and 18,148 murders last year.

Jill Morris, a consular official for the Foreign Office, put the issue into some perspective when I spoke to her at the launch of the 2010 fans' website last Tuesday though.

"There were 450,000 British visitors to South Africa last year," she told me. "Of those, we had to give assistance in about 1,000 cases. The vast majority of these cases involved nothing more serious than lost passports, with only 139 involving a mixture of arrest, detention and victims of crime."

And World Cup ambassador Gary Mabbutt emphasised the vast resources that are being pumped into policing the tournament.

About 41,000 police have been trained specially for the World Cup, boosting total numbers to 183,000, and a further 120,000 reservists are available if needed.

The police arsenal includes 200 revamped armoured vehicles, 100 high-performance cars for road security, 40 helicopters, and mobile command vehicles.

Miles has already had a series of discussions with the South African police and is hopefuly that the tournament will be policed sensitively, despite recent talk in the country of a zero tolerance approach to troublemakers.

"The South African police have had some training from the German authorities and there is an awareness they will be on display to the world next summer," Miles says.

His advice to travelling fans is to use their common sense by travelling in groups, planning their routes carefully and taking advice from hotel staff about where is and is not safe to go.

A couple of other issues are also worth mentioning. It's crucial for fans to arrange medical insurance before they travel out to South Africa, or else they could be at risk of a bill of up to £25,000 if they fall ill or suffer an accident.

And the usual advice about avoiding unprotected sex is particularly pertinent in a country with the highest rate of HIV in the world, where just under 12% of the 48m population are believed to carry the disease, according to the 2007 UNAIDS report.

Perhaps the final word should go to Mabbutt though, the highly respected former Tottenham and England defender who has worked closely with the organisers of the 2010 World Cup for the last eight years.

He is eager for fans to focus on the positives about the 2010 World Cup. After all, this is an opportunity for them to sample a World Cup on African soil for the first time.

"Fans have the opportunity to combine the world's best football with some of its best sights and experiences next summer," he told me.

"This is an opportunity for South Africa to showcase itself as one of the most beautiful, vibrant and diverse countries in the world. The country is desperate to do that and vast sums have been pumped into new stadiums, infrastructure and security.

"As long as fans plan their trips in advance I am sure they will have a World Cup to remember."

* For up-to-the-minute updates, you can follow me on my Twitter feed

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