Monday, December 27, 2010

The last to know

The night was foggy and the environs of the Royal Bafokeng Stadium poorly lit.
We had just finished a nightmare journey to reach the England v USA clash at last summer's World Cup on-time, though little did we know the absurdly delayed drive to Rustenburg from Johannesburg would be as nothing compared to the never-ending story that was the trip back.

Two hours after the final whistle we were still waiting to leave the car park, or rather the strip of wasteland commandeered to house the many vehicles used by fans
visiting the 42,000 venue; Rustenburg had no railway station.

What was FIFA thinking handing the World Cup
to a place like this, I thought. A veritable nightmare for visiting fans, by some margin the most inconvenient of the six World Cup finals I had attended. Then I got my answer - a military helicopter, searchlights beaming through the gloom, hovered in to land. The doors opened and a posse of security ushered US Vice-President Joe Biden into the stadium.

Biden doubtless had a five-star experience of the World Cup like all FIFA dignitaries did, and the TV feed did its job in pumping the games into people's homes across the globe.

But what about the real fans, those of us who had shelled out to be there in the South African winter in person. Did anyone care about our experience of the World Cup?

Talking of winter, and in South Africa the thermometer dipped below zero on many nights, a winter World Cup in the Middle East in 2022 looks ever likelier now the International Players' Union has come out in favour of it.

FIFPRO has added to calls from Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini, endorsed by Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke, for the Qatar tournament to be shifted to the European winter months, presumably January when the African Nations Cup takes place to avoid th
at continent's oppressive summer heat.

"Tourists are advised not to travel to Qatar in the summer months," said FIFPRO's spokesman Tijs Tummers. "Inhabitants of Qatar leave the country en masse during this period."

Tummers went on to note how supporters would suffer in the 50C midday heat "The summer months in Qatar do not provide suitable conditions for a festival of football."

Did someone mention supporters? Those quaint old aficionados who pay an arm and a leg to support multi-million pound stars across the world instead of watching it at home on their i-Pad. Since when were they a cons
ideration for the game's decision-makers in Switzerland?

South Africa was a challenge for them: The distances between venues was vast, the public transport next to non-existent and the road network wholly inadequate for a show of the World Cup's magnitude. The clogged one-lane highway in and out of Rustenburg will live long in this European fan's memory.

Brazil, the World Cup host in 2014, has equally vast distances and poor transport options compared to recent European and Far-Eastern host nation
s, plus a crime problem at least as worrying as South Africa's. 2018 host Russia has more enormous distances to cover in addition to a train network below Western European standards, problems shared by Euro 2012 hosts Poland and Ukraine. And then there is Qatar.

The fans, the lifeblood of the game after all, as it is they who provide the lion's share of club revenues in their ticket purchases, have become the last thought, if considered at all, by the game's decision makers.

What visiting this summer's World Cup finals, and witnessing Russia and Qatar win the right to host future ones confirmed to me was that TV rights, sponsor revenue, FIFA politics, moneyed suitors and geo-political pulls have left fans, the real ones that is, facing more mammoth journeys and myriad inconveniences in their unwavering, unchallengeable, yet increasingly unrequited love for the Beautiful Game.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

No comments: