It’s all systems go for African Nations Cup
WITH less than two days to go before the launch of the African Nations Cup tournament, this Saturday, national and local officials say all systems are in place to run a successful event.
Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula on Thursday castigated critics of the local organising committee (LOC) for the 29th edition of the African Nations Cup, stating boldly that the tournament would be a "resounding success".
"Let the doomsayers eat their humble pie. We have already sold out tickets for the opening match. (The tournament) will be a resounding success," he said at a press conference in Pretoria.
With many people questioning the readiness of the country to host the tournament, Mr Mbalula said he had full confidence in both the LOC and South Africa’s capacity to make the football spectacle an enjoyable and memorable one for all.
"We successfully hosted the Fifa 2010 World Cup despite the critics from all over the globe who said we couldn’t do it. We are as prepared as we were to host Afcon. We are ready, from the official in Home Affairs who will be processing visitors, to the South African Police Service who are on track with regards to security," he said.
Mr Mbalula also said a deal had been reached with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa — which meant that anyone with a match-day ticket going to watch games could climb onto the train for free.
He also said negotiations were currently under way with taxi service providers to ensure that those attending matches could ride on a taxi at a reduced fare.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau visited the FNB stadium — temporarily renamed the National Stadium for the duration of the tournament — to inspect the pitch. He was accompanied by the South African Masters and Legends, former players who have been tasked with the job of bringing back the creative flair in South African football as well as supporting the South African Football Association’s developmental programmes.
In recent months, music acts such as Linkin Park, who played at the stadium in early November, have left the pitch in a deplorable state for football.
"We want the public to know that the pitch is in good condition. Ultimately, when you’re here for a soccer game — especially for the opening match — you need the pitch and the stadium to be in optimal condition," Mr Tau said.
Stadium Management South Africa CEO Jacques Grobbelaar said the original pitch had been stripped in mid-December, two weeks after the Lady Gaga concert.
"We replaced the pitch with northern hemisphere grass, which can withstand temperatures up to minus 17°. In between that, we have installed artificial grass that looks, feels and works like real grass. This way, we have a lush pitch all year around and the integrity of it can be preserved," he said.
The biggest question on everyone’s lips this week, from Pretoria to Soweto, was the readiness of the national football team’s ability to perform.
"I can’t predict whether our team will seize the moment or drop the ball but I can only wish that the national team will rise to the occasion with the knowledge that the whole of South Africa is behind them," said Mr Mbalula