By RON FANFAIR
With just two months to go before soccer’s World Cup kicks off for the first time on the African continent, tickets are still available for every game other than the final.
There are 500,000 unsold tickets and organizers admit the initial reliance on Internet sales has not been the most “friendly” system for local South Africans.
“We want to ensure the picture we give to the world is full stadiums,” said International Soccer Federation (FIFA) secretary-general, Jerome Valcke.
The demand from visiting fans has been lower than originally expected with a significant number of tickets being returned, including those from corporate sponsors. The global recession and crime fears have contributed to the lack of interest from foreign fans.
Valcke acknowledged that the emphasis should have been moved from Internet sales at an earlier stage because most South African fans prefer to buy tickets on match day or close to the start of the tournament.
“The approach at the beginning was not the friendliest system for South Africa and South Africans,” he said. “But there is always time to learn and there is still a long period to go before the competition begins.”
The final phase of ticket selling will see 11 new centres in the nine host cities where fans can buy tickets over the counter.
“We have always said that it is important that we make this World Cup more accessible to the South African people and with the over-the-counter sales, we believe this is a measure that is consistent with the needs of the fans,” said the tournament’s chief executive Danny Jordaan. “If we do have empty stadiums, it will reinforce the idea that soccer is not supported in the country and that would be tragic. The reality is that this is a soccer-mad country.”
Nearly 100,000 tickets will be available exclusively to South Africans for about Can $26, the lowest World Cup price for many years.
South Africa has poured almost Can$5 billion into preparations for the tournament. Major upgrades to airports in Johannesburg, Capetown and Bloemfontein are complete while Durban’s new airport is set to open on May 1.
South African police are also defending security plans following threats made against the United States’ clash with England.
An Algeria-based cell, claiming to be a branch of terrorist group Al-Qaeda, said it will strike on the day of the game – June 12.
Police chief Vishnu Naidoo said his organization has not identified any specific threats in reference to the online article referring to an explosion causing hundreds of deaths.
“The credibility of the report must be questioned, but we will test the content,” he said. “We cannot ignore it.”
Valcke said FIFA is taking the threat seriously, but emphasized that every precaution would be taken to ensure fans’ safety.
“It does not mean that because we receive a threat, the World Cup should not be allowed to be contested in South Africa or any other country,” he said. “We have freedom in the world to celebrate what we want. As the management of the organization that governs world soccer, we know there is a threat. We will not stop the organization of the World Cup because we got the threat.”