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The place the World Cup forgot

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Paul Fletcher | 15:49 UK time, Sunday, 13 June 2010

World Cup 2010: Mossel Bay

Mossel Bay was the first place that Europeans landed in South Africa - but a sub-standard training pitch ruined the town's hopes of hosting a modern-day World Cup invasion from South America.

Paraguay had agreed to use the attractive coastal town on the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth as their base for the tournament, much to the delight of the local population.

Local hoteliers, tour guides and businesses desperately hoped to capitalise on an estimated 6,000 supporters who were expected to follow in the wake of their team.

The local tourism board created a Spanish version of their website, locals took evening classes to ensure they would be able to communicate and expectations were high that Mossel Bay really would have a significant role to play during the World Cup.

That all changed after a delegation from La Albirroja arrived at the turn of the year for an inspection and left distinctly underwhelmed with both the proposed hotel and training facilities.

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Paraguay team guide

The pitch at Extension 23 fields had a camber that exceeded Fifa expectations and it soon became clear that Gerardo Martino's team would move elsewhere. They eventually settled on the Woodridge County Estate in the heart of Kwazulu Natal.

"The impact of Paraguay not coming was massive," local tour operator Jauckie Viljoen told me. "The whole marketing strategy for Mossel Bay during the World Cup was based around having them here and when they pulled out, it was too late to change."

I took a look at the proposed training facility close to the Kwanonqaba township on Sunday morning.

The pitch, encased behind locked gates, looked sad and unwanted, while two local teams contested a match on the pot-marked bumpy surface next door. I looked through the fence and the camber that cost Mossel Bay their World Cup bonanza seemed fairly obvious.

Alas, Viljoen reckons hotel occupancy here is only in the region of 35%, while the banners blowing in Sunday's breeze that proclaimed "Welcome to the world, Mossel Bay 2010" had a hollow ring to them.

It struck me as being a real shame because this is a genuinely scenic place, nestled on the coast with the Outeniqua mountains forming a pleasing backdrop.

But by the waterfront it had the sleepy feel of a seaside town in winter, not the throbbing beat of a place gripped by World Cup fever. "Life live slowly," reads the motto of our hotel. You get the picture.

I took a stroll around the centre of town and hardly saw anyone, except three Israeli tourists wandering around a museum that focuses on Bartolomeu Dias.

It was the Portuguese explorer who first arrived here on 3 February 1488 after doubling the Cape of Good Hope in a vicious storm.

His attempts to communicate with the local Khoisan saw him pelted with a volley of stones but Vasco da Gama had more success when he sailed into the bay in 1497.

The Portuguese didn't last all that long, with the Dutch eventually becoming the first Europeans to regard South Africa as a place to settle rather than a stop for food and fuel on route to Asia.

The BBC bus passes through Mossel BayThe BBC bus passes through Mossel Bay

I am hoping that there will be plenty of Portuguese in Port Elizabeth when the BBC bus rolls into town on Monday ahead of their game against Ivory Coast on Tuesday.

Apart from a puncture to the generator tyre, all is well so far on the bus, which left Cape Town on Saturday and meandered along at its leisurely pace to Cape Agulhas, the most southerly point in Africa.

While there I visited the house where former Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan put the finishing touches to his seminal Wind of Change speech in 1960, which signalled the government's intent to grant independence to several of their African territories.

At a time when much is being made of the significance of a World Cup being staged in Africa, I thought it was important to be reminded how this continent has changed so much in a relatively short space of time.

Whether the tournament has a positive lasting legacy is the subject of debate, but what I can say is that it's not having much impact on poor old Mossel Bay.

You can follow me throughout the World Cup at


  • Comment number 1.

    LIke the blog and how we are seeing the whole of south Africa and not just the parts their government want us to see.

  • Comment number 2.

    Viscous storm? Did he meet a sticky end?

  • Comment number 3.

    That's a bummer. All that preparation for nothing.

  • Comment number 4.

    "viscous storm"?! i think spell-check has stuck you in it.

  • Comment number 5.

    Not aware that the South African government has ever had a policy of only looking at the best parts of South not sure what no 1 David is on about....anyhow, moving alomn...

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm not too sure what the "story" is here, Paul.

    No business in the world would be formed on the basis of 5000 Paraguayans visiting for a month (with all due respect to Paraguay).

    So is the lost opportunity simply one of a wasted opportunity to attract other South American tourists? And would that be because the football pitch was not up to scratch, or the local hotels?

  • Comment number 7.

    I hope Paraguay gets gubbed. Playing on a sloped surface woudl have been good prep, would have made things seem easier on the day of games.

  • Comment number 8.

    ummm 1.David..... Mossel Bay is probably one of the places the government DOES want the world to see. It's a beautiful place and any South African would tell you that a week in Mossel bay is definately worth it.

  • Comment number 9.

    Love Mosselbaai! Many happy memories there. Peaceful and beautiful.

    Paraguay's loss.

  • Comment number 10.

    Spot on Paul, Mossel Bay is a wonderful relaxing place, and would have been an ideal stopping place for English fans being half way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The loss of the Paraguans was a blow but the town has made no effort to create a fan park or other facility with a big sceen to accomodate football fans, and it had two ideal locations the Arena and the Barnyard. I have waited for years for the
    world cup to come here and am dissapointed for the lack of activity in this lovely town.


  • Comment number 11.

    Great post, Mr Fletcher. I'm sure there have been many tales like this over the years, and most don't get reported, or not reported in time. Perhaps some footie fans in SA might visit this place now who might not have heard of it otherwise.

    The South Africans who bothered to learn some Spanish in this town should keep up the language lessons - it's a rather handy lingo to know.

    #6 - there's plenty of story here, sorry you can't see it. And if you're wondering where the 5000 figure comes from, it's a conservative estimate - the Mossel Bay organizers said in Sep 09, "The federation has informed us that we can expect that upwards of 6 000 supporters will follow the team to South Africa."

    The Mossel Bay organizers also created versions of their page in Portuguese, German, French, Dutch, and Italian.

    But is there not one football pitch in Mossel Bay without a slope? Surely they should have checked that their own pitch met FIFA standards? Who fluffed that up?

    As for the hotel - was that just diva footballers (hey, they may be from Paraguay, but they're still very highly paid and used to a top lifestyle) or was there really a problem with the hotel?

    #8, #1 - the point is, the SA government would like more people to visit any of its quaint little towns like Mossel Bay, but sometimes places get forgotten in all the excitement.

    Perhaps another article on how the people of Pietermaritzburg (Woodridge is 60km from there) are celebrating the influx of Paraguayan profit...

    Afaik, there were several sites from each team to choose from. Was Paraguay the only team to change sites?

  • Comment number 12.

    1. At 6:56pm on 13 Jun 2010, David wrote:
    LIke the blog and how we are seeing the whole of south Africa and not just the parts their government want us to see.
    Like erm......... what are you on about?

  • Comment number 13.

    1. At 6:56pm on 13 Jun 2010, David wrote:
    Dave, I thought I'd help. You don't need the government to tell you anything. Just go to South Africa if you want to know anything about them. Or try this website. There's a lot more from google but you being lazy to search, I doubt if you ever thought of it.

    It ant hard init?

  • Comment number 14.

    Mossel Bay is very beautiful, typical of British Newspaper.

  • Comment number 15.

    #14, Banyathi. If you're going to have a go at a journalist, or indeed at the English press as a whole, then make an effort to actually read the article. On this occasion, I'll save you the effort:

    Paul writes: "It struck me as being a real shame because this is a genuinely scenic place, nestled on the coast with the Outeniqua mountains forming a pleasing backdrop."

    Interesting blog. Never ceases to amaze me how some people simply post on these blogs just to have a go at the author, usually because they either disagree with or aren't interested in the subject matter. For my money (literally!), these blogs are the best aspect to the BBC Sport website and are on a par with the better columnists in the national papers (I'm thinking Athers, Matthew Syed, David Lacey etc).

    Cheers to Paul, McNulty, Dirs, Fordyce, Mountford, etc. etc.

  • Comment number 16.

    To the deprived residents of Mossel Bay please remember there is no shame in having a dodgy pitch ..............we've got Wembley.

  • Comment number 17.

    "Proposed training facility (at) Kwanonqaba township pitch, encased behind locked gates, looked sad and unwanted"

    Putting the fact aside that Mossel Bay is actually a lovely place..scenic and all that - I think all the national teams should have been allocated barrack style accomodation in an open draw in all struggling townships throughout S.A. - similar in style to those in 'Escape To Victory' (without the nazi element ofcourse) - instead of the untasteful scramble they all made for the best pitch and five star hotel they would be spreading wealth to those who need it. They would be allowed to invest whatever they liked in improving facilities off their own backs, employ the locals, generating life-long bonds with the places and population.

    Imagine if England was based in one of the poorest shanty-towns in S.A. - people and players being forced to face poverty head-on every day. It would change lives forever. If Fifa really wanted to change the world this is the way!...Same with the favella's and slums in Brazil in 2014...make a difference! Before anyone says about Africans not wanting charity..there are poor people and ultra rich in every country - they can do it everywhere even in the U.S. and U.K. (will probably need it by 2018)

  • Comment number 18.

    They may have missed out on the World Cup, but at least the sun shines in Summer!

    We miss out on THAT every year!

  • Comment number 19.

    Now then, thanks for the comments, although some of them have been pretty viscous!

    Mossel Bay was truly a very scenic place - but I think that to suggest the Paraguay team pulling the plug was a non-story is wide of the mark.

    Indeed, pretty interesting that the frogstar (post 6) reckons no business in the whole wide world would base their marketing strategy for the WC on several thousand Paraguayans staying in their town.

    I spoke to several business people on Sunday in the small town of Mossel Bay and several had done just that.

    The BBC bus rolled out of town at 5am this morning and is now in the Port Elizabeth area. Right now I'm just waiting for Deco to come out to speak to the press ahead of Portugal's game against Ivory Coast on Tuesday.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hmm, all the chat from the Portugal media officer was that the team came direct to the stadium after flying into town and ARE VERY HUNGRY. So they won't be hanging around answering questions.

    Deco seemed pretty relaxed though as he answered questions. He came across as being intelligent, composed and relaxed.

  • Comment number 21.

    @easyleesie: I love Mossel Bay too, but it's hardly "Paraguay's loss" if the facilities aren't there for them to prepare properly.

  • Comment number 22.

    What's a camber?

  • Comment number 23.

    In this case, the slope from the centre of the pitch to the touchline.

  • Comment number 24.

    As a Paraguayan, I am glad Paraguay didn't stay there! If the place wasn't perfect or as close as possible to it, then i don't see why they should stay there. It's the same as any other team. I have read that several teams have been unhappy about the places they have been using for preparation. I think it's a shame, and I'm sure the Py team would have stayed if things had been better prepared. I don't understand how the planners could have made such a huge mistake! Surely they had FIFA's standards before they set out to build the place. It's a real shame for the local people.


  • Comment number 25.

    Right you are then, cheers!


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