Accommodation shortages a worry for Blatter ahead of 2010 event

23rd June 2009 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

A shortage of accommodation, particularly in some of the smaller 2010 host cities, such as Bloemfontein, had emerged as FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s main concern ahead of the international football tournament, which will kick off in June next year.

Speaking at a function organised by the South African chapter of SwissCham in Johannesburg on Monday, Blatter stressed, however, that he was not “looking for problems, only solutions”, and that various options were being interrogated to deal with the accommodation challenge.

He hinted to the berthing of passenger ships off Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth to deal with shortages in those coastal cities, noting that Greece’s capital Athens had shown this to be a viable alternative during that city’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2004, as Barcelona, in Spain, had proved previously.

The problem was more acute for the landlocked city of Bloemfontein, in the Free State province, where Blatter said fans would not necessarily be seeking four- or five-star hotels, but rather “decent and secure” places to stay during the month-long tournament.

“Our concern is that [the tournament] is too popular,” Blatter said, noting that over two-thirds of the 760 000 tickets that had been released during the first round of bidding had been snapped up “outside of South Africa”.

Interestingly, the single highest number of purchasers came from the US, whose team surprised many by beating Egypt on Sunday night to book one of the four slots in the semifinals of the Confederations (Confed) Cup, which is being played in South Africa as something of a curtain raiser to the main event next year.

There had also been strong demand from Brazil, Argentina and the UK.

FIFA was still anticipating that 450 000 fans would travel to the event next winter, despite the economic chill created by the global financial crisis. It also felt that, in the context of yearly tourist arrivals of more than ten-million, South Africa should have few problems, overall, in dealing with the additional tourist numbers. Nevertheless there were definitely real accommodation shortages in some of the smaller host cities.

FIFA’s initial analysis of the Confed Cup also highlighted public transport to-and-from the games as an area of concern, with a number of problems having been reported about the functioning of the ‘park-and-ride’ system. But, Blatter felt these could be managed.

He was also sanguine about the continued use of the so-called ‘vuvuzela’, the plastic horn blown enthusiastically by South African football fans. Some Confed Cup participants had indicated the noise emanating from the horns was off putting.

“This is Africa,” Blatter mused, adding that it would be a mistake to “forbid” the sounds of Africa from the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which would be the first even on African soil.

He added that he himself intended to blow a vuvuzela later this week at a press conference that would been convened ahead of the semi finals, at which FIFA would be launching its latest “anti-discrimination” campaign.

He further ingratiated himself to the South Africa-based audience by suggesting that, while he had threatened a “Plan B” (taking the tournament elsewhere) as a tool to accelerate preparations of the tournament, “what I never told anybody, was that ‘Plan B’ was also always South Africa”.