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The 2010 World Cup build-up

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Mihir Bose | 14:28 UK time, Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Major events such as the Olympics and World Cups always raise questions as to whether the hosting country will be ready in time.

Three years ago doubts about Athens readiness for the 2004 Olympics remained almost to the moment the opening ceremony started.

South Africa, which will host the 2010 World Cup, has more than its fair share of doomsayers.

Mihir at Soccer City

The first impression of the visitor arriving in the country, as I did on Monday morning ahead of Sunday's draw in Durban on Sunday, is that South Africa’s preparations are very much a work in progress.

The work is at the Oliver Tambo airport in Johannesburg, which is like a giant building site, a perfect illustration. Waiting at immigration made me realise how much work is still necessary.

Also, South Africa has asserted that the event is one that demonstrates the African continent's ability to stage a mega tournament.

At the airport, arrivals are separated not between foreigners and nationals of the country, which is the norm in most countries, but between foreigners and African states. A clear demonstration to my mind of South Africa’s commitment to the continent.

However, the problem is is that the queues are not properly regulated. As they snake around barriers it is difficult to know which immigration booth to go to and by the time my visa was stamped it had taken more than half an hour and making Heathrow appear quick.

Mihir at Soccer City

The work in progress is most evident at Soccer City on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Back in January this was level ground, the old stadium having been demolished. Now I found workmen doing double-time to raise a stadium that will host both the opening ceremony and the finals and be South Africa’s soccer showcase.

But if this shows the country’s capacity to make quick progress, the big questions marks about the infrastructure remain.

You only have to look at the geography of the stadium to realise this.

The stadium is just outside Soweto, the famous black township.

From the stadium you cannot see Soweto hidden as it is by mine dumps, a deliberate design by the architects of the apartheid regime.

Soccer City under construction

On the other side are what used to be the white northern suburbs including Sandton and then some eight kilometres away in another direction the central Johannesburg district.

Under the apartheid regime all this was meant to separate, and while blacks came from Soweto to work in the central district there is no public transport linking Soweto with Sandton.

A walk in the central Johannesburg area illustrates this well.

There is a huge red brick building called the Metro. But this is not a mass transit building as it would be in Europe or other parts of the world. This is a shipping mall and a taxi garage.

The taxis called combis are little minibuses transporting people, almost all of them black, from central Johannesburg to the townships.

Soccer City under construction

The World Cup is meant to end apartheid imbalance.

Railway lines are being built, which by the time the World Cup comes around, will take spectators from the airport to Sandton and then on to Soccer City.

The man in charge of the 2010 event, Danny Jordaan, is confident that come the opening ceremony the infrastructure will be in place. But not before a mountain of work is undertaken.

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