WIESBADEN, Germany – "Here we go again, here we go again," cheered thousands of fans at a public viewing event as Germany crushed Australia 4-0 in its first World Cup match Sunday.
After months of tough economic news and a cold and rainy spring, the month-long soccer fiesta in South Africa comes as a welcome respite as the nation hopes to relive the party of four years ago when Germany hosted the World Cup.
National soccer fever "In 2006, Germany somewhat re-invented its national pride, not in a political way, but Germans suddenly discovered how to best celebrate a shared passion," said Tobias Radloff, 23, an official "cheerleader" at the fan gathering in Wiesbaden.
"And now, the fans are back to repeat the colorful party that came to be known as Germany’s summer fairy tale four years ago," Radloff added.
The excitement is infectious.
"We have our American football, we have our baseball, but this is the first time we have experienced anything that is so exciting on such an international level," said Martha Kem, a U.S. military spouse based in Wiesbaden as she cheered on her 8-year-old son, Charlie, who was competing in a local "Mini World Cup."
Joe Pacher, an American service member, was equally impressed by the cultural force of soccer in Germany. "Soccer here is special, I think it is part of the fabric," he said.
Andy Eckardt, NBC News A German storefront takes advantage of the World Cup merchandising possibilities.
Soccer frenzy The tournament doesn’t only produce a psychological boost, it also provides invaluable marketing opportunities for official sponsors, such as German sportswear manufacturer Adidas.
For the ordinary German, there is simply no way to escape the soccer hype these days. Candy bars with soccer stickers, special-edition razors in the Germany’s national colors and complementary sweatbands for dogs are just a few examples.
Market researchers say that the World Cup will boost German retail sales.
"I am strongly convinced that the World Cup will be another little stimulus program," Klaus Wuebbenhorst, the head of market research company GfK, said in an interview with Germany's Die Welt newspaper.
Bars and restaurants across Germany also are hoping the soccer euphoria and warmer temperatures will help the industry rebound from stagnant earnings, suffered during an exceptionally long winter and a very cold spring.
Andy Eckardt, NBC News The World Cup merchandising madness in Germany includes tee-shirts and sweatbands for dogs.
"During the World Cup, even people who normally do not prefer beer as their favorite drink, tend to turn to the cold brew," said Walter Koenig of the Bavarian Brewers' Association. "Beer and soccer belong together in Germany."
Beer drinkers will have their next opportunity to buy a stein when Germany hits the pitch for their second match of the tournament against Serbia Friday.
JOHANNESBURG – When the South African team took the field against Uruguay Wednesday, the match carried not just the soccer dreams of millions, but the historical weight of events that happened here 34 years ago today.
In June 1976, racial tensions among South African students were at a breaking point. Already desperately underfunded because the Bantu Education Act of 1953 cut government funding to predominantly black schools, students were fuming over a new law forcing schools to abandon teaching in native tongues like Zulu in favor of Afrikaans and English.
While many black South Africans could stomach English because it had become an increasingly popular language for business, the forced use of Afrikaans – the language of the ruling white minority – was too much to bear.
In protest, on June 16, 1976, thousands of black students and teachers in the Johannesburg township of Soweto organized a peaceful march to Orlando Stadium (just a few miles south of Soccer City stadium, the site of the World Cup’s opening and closing matches) to air their grievances.
How the violence started remains a source of historical debate, but what followed was a short and intense engagement between youthful protesters and South African police that blew the lid off the long-simmering racial tension in Soweto.
The tragic events of the "The Soweto Uprisings" inspired students to align themselves with the African National Congress, the future political party of Nelson Mandela.
The anniversary is now commemorated annually as Youth Day – which today coincided with South Africa’s second game in the World Cup.
The symbolism of how far the country has come since the dark days of apartheid was not lost on South African team captain Aaron Mokoena. "This is a day which all South Africans remember," Mokoena said before the game. "Playing this match on this day means a lot to us as players, and some of us would not have been here were it not for the sacrifices of many who came before us."
Despite a 3-0 loss to Uruguay, the fact that a team of black South Africans were center stage paid tribute to what the townships brought to the nation so many years ago.
JOHANNESBURG – Thabifo Duda is a savvy businessman. "This is the new design, they make less noise," he told me, brandishing a shiny new vuvuzela horn. "And we are giving away a packet of these free with every vuvuzela," he added, waving a little plastic pouch containing a pair of bright orange ear plugs. I had no way of judging the noise from the ‘new’ horn; it still sounded loud to me. But the ear-plugs, that was a smart idea.
Photo by EPA/ANDY RAIN
South African soccer fans wave their Vuvuzela horns while watching the opening match of the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup between South Africa and Mexico at the Fan Fest in Durban, South Africa, June 11 2010.
Thabifo and his twin brother, Thabang, run a small vuvuzela distribution company, aptly names Twin Sport, out of shabby office in downtown Johannesburg. They have a network of around 60 hawkers, and each match day they pan out around the stadium with their bags of horns, stylized in the colors of the day's contestants and sell them for about $7.
"These are made in South Africa," Thabifo said, as we strolled around the perimeter of Soccer City, checking on his hawkers. "The noisy ones are made in China, and they break."
He stopped to bark instructions into his cell phone. "Got to get some more orange ones," he told me, "we're running out." It was the day of a game between Holland and Denmark, and massed groups of vuvuzela-wielding soccer fans moved along the sidewalk in front of us, chanting, singing and blowing those horns.
The Duda twins started their business ten years ago, when the vuvuzela first started to catch on at soccer matches in South Africa. Their initial, modest, aim was to raise money for school fees, but they've never looked back, and business is booming. "But competition is fierce, very fierce," Thabifo said, warily scanning the road for any rivals.
Swarm of hornets Love it or hate it, the sound of the vuvuzela horn has become the signature tune of this South African World Cup. But five days into the competition, there are signs that fans are starting to get a bit weary of vuvuzelas, the sound of which has been likened to an angry giant swarm of hornets or a herd of distraught elephants
"No. No. No more vuvuzelas please. Too loud," said one fan, as one of Duda's hawkers was getting into his sales pitch.
"They are fun until about the seventieth minute," another fan told me, "Then they get a bit much."
The South African Medical Journal recently compared the stadium noise, with vuvuzelas in full throttle, to standing near a jet engine.
"There is a definite established risk of hearing loss from a vuvuzela," Katijah Khoza-Shangase told me, when we went to see her at Witwatersrand University's Speech Pathology and Audiology Department, which she heads. She is part of a team monitoring the vuvuzela noise in stadiums, and she's recommending fans wear ear plugs.
Noise above 85 decibels is considered dangerous. When I blew a vuvuzela beside one of her decibel meters, the meter registered 114 – and I'm not particularly good at blowing those things.
Khoza-Shangase is in no doubt there is a short term impact on hearing; she's now trying to establish the risk of permanent damage.
Debate roars International broadcasters have also joined the chorus of complaints about the horns, claiming they are killing the atmosphere of the game, drowning out the usual singing and chanting and annoying the viewers back home.
Top players are angry too, some claiming they can't sleep at night or concentrate on the field.
“Almost everyone hates the vuvuzela, but it's part of the World Cup and needs to be respected," said the Portuguese star Christiano Ronaldo.
And there lies the problem for the critics.
"It's part of having the World Cup in South Africa, and the world has to accept that," said Robert Marawa, the host of a popular evening talk radio show on Johannesburg's Metro FM. "FIFA [soccer's ruling body] can't just change its mind and ban the vuvuzela after the competition has started."
When we went to see him in his studio, a big chunk of the show was about the threat of a vuvuzela ban. One of guests was Danny Jordaan, who heads the local World Cup organizing committee. "We are not going to ban the vuvuzela," he affirmed. "The Mexicans gave the world the Mexican wave. South Africa will give the world the vuvuzela."
Another guest was former South African president, Thabo Mbeki. "Do you have a vuvuzela?" Marawa asked him. "I don't," replied Mbeki. "I think one less vuvuzela is better for all of us."
Supporters of the vuvuzela say it is rooted in African tradition and culture – a modern version of the Kuda horn used to call villagers to meetings. Though Mondli Makhanya, a former editor of the (Johannesburg) Sunday Times, has called that "balderdash.”
The horn was first used in soccer stadiums here in the 1990s, initially during games between bitter Soweto rivals, and only took off in the last decade. Though now it is there in such numbers, it’s hard to see how FIFA could enforce a ban, even if they wanted to.
Thabifo Duda, always looking for a business opportunity, is planning to learn Portuguese after this competition is over, in preparation for the next World Cup – in Brazil in 2014, which he thinks is ripe for the vuvuzela.
Even Karijah, the audiologist, doesn't support a ban. "Oh no," she told me. "We can't ban them. But fans should consider ear protection."
Marawa thinks that anybody who believes they can banish the horn is deluding themselves, and that after this cup it will become a feature of games around the world. He says he's already heard of a pharmacy chain in Germany giving away vuvuzelas as a sales promotion.
"Pretty clever," he joked. "They go away, use it, get a headache, and have to go back for more pills."
Like it or not, the vuvuzela horn is set to become a part of soccer worldwide.
PRETORIA, South Africa – On our first day covering the U.S. soccer team training here, the NBC News team was greeted by two humorless Department of Diplomatic Security officers who told us to lay our camera equipment on the ground for an inspection by sniffer dogs.
As the two German shepherds and their local police escorts went to work eagerly burrowing through our lined up gear, an enterprising photographer took the opportunity to get down on his knees to squeeze a couple shots of the dogs in action.
One of the dogs quickly turned and started to snarl and growl at the surprised shooter, who fell flat on his rear as he beat a hasty retreat.
Set within Irene Farm, a working dairy farm in Pretoria, the team’s temporary World Cup home provides an informal setting that suits the team’s seemingly relaxed personality.
However, the players for Team USA, currently ranked 14 in the world, are extremely aware of the high expectations that are unique to the American team.
"We have a different responsibility in our country then most countries do," said Landon Donovan, the veteran mid-fielder and vice-captain of the team. "When we walk around the streets, people don’t always know who we are."
He explained how the American players don’t have the same rock-star status as international superstars like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
"So our job is not only to play, but we're also ambassadors for our sport," said Donovan. "We’re trying to sell our sport and we understand very clear that every four years is our biggest opportunity to do that."
Though arguably the star of the team, Donovan is convinced that team-oriented, selfless play will be key to any American success against the more glitzy, star-studded teams they may encounter.
"Our biggest strength always has been our team," said Donovan. "There are no egos and everybody kind of sees this common goal…Everybody is in this together and that is sort of the American spirit and that’s what we’ve always brought."
Donovan’s confidence is encouraging, but don’t expect it to carry over to dubious sports experts and insiders. Most bookies are offering a long 6-1 bet on a U.S. win.
We’ll all have to wait and wonder until the two teams meet on the pitch on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 pm EST.
LONDON – It was called "The English Disease." Wherever England soccer fans went, violence seemed to follow.
During the Euro 2000 championships, an exchange of insults turned into a full-scale riot. Cameras captured the descent of a pleasant square in the Belgian city of Charleroi into a battleground of flying fists, bottles, cans and furniture countered by riot police and armored vehicles firing water cannons at so-called "hooligans."
Photo by Phillippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images
British football fans shout at policemen June 17, 2000 a few hours before the Euro 2000 match between England and Germany in Charleroi. Ranks of riot police used water cannons in an effort to prevent fighting between England and German fans massed on opposite sides of the main Charles II square.
One commentator, Hugo Young of Britain's Guardian newspaper, was moved at the time to lament how the English were "the experts in drunken violence, racist aggression, head-banging nationalism, copycat provocation, [and] serial thuggery." Hundreds were arrested before being deported on a specially chartered boat.
So should American fans planning to attend Saturday's World Cup clash against England in Rustenburg, South Africa, fear for their safety? Or has England finally found a cure for the contagion of soccer violence?
South African authorities ready "We're not anticipating significant disorder, but we're not complacent," was the almost-reassuring message from Nick Hawkins, of the U.K.'s Crown Prosecution Service. "There's always a small number of people who get carried away … they've had too much to drink and they just get it badly wrong. We don't seek to excuse that, but that is a fact."
England introduced new laws in the aftermath of the Euro 2000 tournament, which Hawkins thinks have made a difference.
Police now hold a list, currently containing 2,771 names, of those deemed to be hooligans. They were required to surrender their passports to the police by June 1 and they will only get them back once the tournament is over.
The "vast majority" have done so, according to Bryan Drew, director of the U.K. Football Policing Unit. Authorities are now on the trail of those who have not. On Thursday, five people in Birmingham, England, were arrested and now face six months in prison if found guilty.
"Where we cannot find them or their passports, we'll be sharing that information with the South Africans, so they will be there to welcome them when they come into their country," Drew said.
He said the chance of trouble in Rustenburg was "negligible." But 10 members of Argentina’s notorious Barrabravas gang – likely enemies of English hooligans – showed that some intent on violence are trying to get into South Africa. They were nabbed at Johannesburg airport and then deported this week.
Photo by Lutz Bongarts/Getty Images
Chairs flew during British football fans riot in Chareleroi, Belgium on June 17, 2000.
'Hooliologist' explains the phenomenon Some in the U.S. may struggle to understand why soccer attracts violent followers.
Cass Pennant, a former soccer hooligan who is now an author and self-described "hooliologist," explained that "football" was different to other sports.
"Ordinary people get caught up in it, the togetherness, the feeling. It's probably the only sport where the fans can take part, kick every ball," he said. "In other sports, you are very much a viewer. There is this kind of magic that ties people together."
"Pete," who is involved in a website dedicated to Chelsea Football Club's hooligans, told msnbc.com that he doubted there would be any major trouble linked to Saturday’s England vs. U.S. match.
"If there is [any violence], it will be drink-related and would not be directed at any American fans because they are American," he wrote in an e-mail. "I personally like Americans (unless they are Irish republican sympathizers, then I wish them nothing but bad luck and an early end.)"
"Pete" said he was friendly with members of the California-based Orange County Hooligans, but added "they are not really hooligans." He didn’t think that they really understood the term to mean people who engage in soccer-related violence.
Mark Perryman, author of "Ingerland: Travels with a Football Nation," said soccer violence was once "a defining characteristic of Englishness."
But the genuine fans had helped to marginalize the violent element, he added.
Perryman’s theory was that while there might be a "couple of hundred idiots," all they would do was "drink themselves stupid and lie in the gutter" rather than attack Americans.
However, he warned Americans in London might be more at risk. "A late winner for the USA and I wouldn’t like to be an American tourist close to a pub in central London with a group a beered-up lads," Perryman added.
Fans like Perryman – who is currently in South Africa for the tournament – are now very much in the majority. But the extreme violence once threatened to drive peaceful supporters away.
A spokesman for England's Football Association, who declined to give his name in line with usual British custom, recalled his experiences during Euro 2000.
"It was a pretty horrible place to be. The security around England fans was very, very high," he said. "I remember seeing Scotland fans and Dutch supporters … a great bunch … you would have rather been around them than the England supporters."
* Ian Johnston is a former member of the Tartan Army, the official Scotland supporters club.
LONDON -- The beer-soaked patrons at London’s Lord John Russell pub have witnessed more than a few "football" matches over the decades.
During the next month, the English, Australian, New Zealand and American flags that have suddenly appeared in the cozy tavern’s windows will serve as beacons for thirsty World Cup fans.
Photo by Jack Highberger/NBC News
Outside the Lord John Russell, which is expecting large crowds for the World Cup.
On Saturday night, all eyes will be on England’s first match of the soccer tournament. But Britain’s rampant pub culture will ensure that the drinking begins long before Wayne Rooney and his compatriots kick-off against the United States.
Beer is big business and the Lord John Russell, near Russell Square, has invested in two more TVs, a projector and a new sound system for the World Cup.
"It will depend on the person because I know some guys who will drink 20 pints (of beer) throughout the day Saturday," says bartender Paul Synan. "I would probably have about eight before I go onto shots or something, but I’m not English, I’m Welsh."
Pub patrons Gav Graham and Jamie Clayton admitted they were decidedly apprehensive about England’s chances.
"We accept every year since 1966 that we will do well but not win it," Graham said as he downed a pint.
"England never plays well their first game, so yeah, the Americans have got a chance," Clayton added.
At The Sports Cafe, which is located not far from Piccadilly Circus, the World Cup experience will be a bit different than in the traditional confines of the Lord John Russell. The popular nightspot takes up two floors, features multiple bars and is speckled with flat-screen TVs.
Manager Ian Stretch expects that his staff will serve £20,000 ($30,000) worth of alcohol by the time soccer fans wrap up their partying on Saturday.
"The atmosphere is going to be loud and in your face. It’s going to be a party no matter the result," Stretch says.
Photo by Jack Highberger/NBC News
St. George's Cross, England's flag, adorns the walls of the Lord John Russell pub in anticipation of the country's first game against the U.S. Saturday.
Due to England fans’ legendary love of alcohol, Stretch is increasing the number of bouncers from the normal four to 20 for the game against the United States.
"Because of the high volume there is the potential for something to happen. It is not unknown for people to fight while watching football," Stretch added with a smile.
Raul Dolores, manager of the nearby Comedy Pub, isn’t taking any chances on Saturday either.
"There will be a double staff than what is normal," he says. "I had a previous experience with England and Portugal that got nasty."
Comedy Pub patron Michael Mulford was able to enjoy a quiet drink on Wednesday, in sharp contrast to what he expects on Saturday night.
"I will probably start drinking mid-day, my friends and I will make a day of it, with food, without it I would be on my back," Mulford said. "You always remember the World Cup because the pub atmosphere is brilliant."
It goes without saying that "football" is taken more seriously in London than in any city stateside. While a loss to the Americans wouldn’t be as heartbreaking as a defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Germany or Argentina, it would ruffle more than a few feathers.
"Losing would be a massive, massive shock," Mulford added. "What if someone were to come over to the States and beat your best basketball team? It would be humiliating."
English bookmaker William Hill expects to take £5 million ($7.3 million) in bets on Saturday’s game. They put England at 8/1 to win the tournament (behind Spain, Brazil and Argentina) and consider the U.S. 80/1 longshots.
The Texas Embassy Cantina, near Trafalgar Square, will serve as a home away from home for many Americans in London hoping to watch their countrymen beat the odds.
Michigan State students Andrea Nelson, Kelsey Cocke and Jacqlyn Ucinski are hoping for an upset.
"We are here to experience their lifestyle and football is a big part of that," Ucinski said. "We are kind of in dangerous territory over here," Nelson joked.
And Pittsburgh University student Ryan Phipps, who is studying in London, knows exactly what he will do if the Americans win.
"I will run around the streets with my Landon Donovan jersey on," he said. "It will be awesome to see the reaction of the English because they have way more at stake than we do."
South African President Jacob Zuma talks with his wife Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on June 4, 2010.
JOHANNESBURG – As the World Cup approaches, South Africa has been gripped by a rather different contest, as intense as anything you'll see on the field over the next month – a scrap between Nompumelelo Ntuli Zuma and her husband Jacob Zuma, the country's president.
Allegations that MaNtuli, as she is known, had cheated on her husband swept the beautiful game from the headlines this week, and have been the fodder of hand-wringing columnists, bloggers and talk radio.
The theme of most was: "Well done MaNtuli." They could hardly contain themselves. One radio station even described her alleged infidelity with a bodyguard as a "victory for women."
This may seem like a perverse reaction, until, that is, you a take a peek behind the walls of Zuma's presidential mansion.
As a Zulu traditionalist, Zuma is a big believer in polygamy. He currently has three wives. He divorced a previous wife, and yet another previous wife committed suicide. Of his current three wives, MaNtuli is the second – the Second First Lady, as she is known.
MaNtuli, it appears, is not such a big believer in polygamy. When late last year Zuma announced that he was marrying again (current wife number three), she reportedly "went berserk," storming out of the presidential guesthouse, breaking a security door and hitting a security officer. She refused to attend the January wedding ceremony.
Newspapers reported that in April she was fined one goat by the extended Zuma family (part of Zulu tradition) as punishment for bad behavior, and that the goat was presented to her husband as an apology.
Neither the president nor MaNtuli have responded publicly to the allegations of her infidelity.
One newspaper reported recently that Zuma's wives were costing South African taxpayers roughly $2 million per year. And the bill may go up soon.
The 67-year-old president has become engaged to marry again, this time to a woman by whom he already has a child. And there are rumors of yet another wife being prepared for the Zuma marital conveyor belt.
The allegations of MaNtuli's cheating were contained in a leaked letter apparently written by another member of the Zuma household, possibly another wife. The revelations prompted lurid headlines about the "War of the Wives" and suggestions that the baby she is now carrying is that of the bodyguard, who has since allegedly killed himself.
Zuma is a fierce defender of polygamy. Yet, on an overseas visit earlier this year, he said he believed in the equality of women (who are not allowed multiple husbands), and called for the respect of Zulu culture.
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Critics say his behavior wouldn't be so bad if the president stuck to romantic entanglements with his three wives. Instead, by conservative estimates, Zuma has at least 20 children by at least eight different women.
In 2006, he was tried (and acquitted) for rape. At that trial he admitted having unprotected sex with a woman he knew to be HIV positive, saying he took a shower afterwards to fend off the virus.
This doesn’t set a particularly good example in a country with the world's highest rate of HIV infection – almost 20 percent of the population – according to U.N. estimates.
But it does explain why there has been such unrestrained glee over the MaNtuli allegations.
"It's goose for the gander," marveled one talk show host. For those of us gearing up for the World Cup, it has at the least been a rather entertaining sideshow. It’s hard to think of a soap opera that could beat "At Home With The Zumas."
AIDS awareness campaigns are prevalent across South Africa. This mural is on the wall of an elementary school in Munsieville Township, west of Johannesburg.
JOHANNESBURG – With the World Cup kick-off just days away, HIV/AIDS prevention groups in South Africa have been ramping up their public protests against FIFA, the world body of soccer.
The activists claim that that the tournament’s organizers have hindered HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns by blocking condom and safe-sex information distribution at official game venues.
The protests are the culmination of a long-simmering feud between FIFA and HIV/AIDS awareness groups here, with health experts concerned that the arrival of an estimated 300,000 fans from all over the globe could exacerbate the already serious health crisis. An estimated 1 in 5 adults – around 5.7 million South Africans – are already infected with HIV/AIDS.
“To date FIFA has not permitted any civil society organization to distribute HIV or health related information and FIFA has not provided any written confirmation that condoms may be distributed at stadia and within the fan fest,” said the statement.
Same story, greater challenges It’s a situation that seems to repeat itself every couple years: Mass sporting events + thousands of excited, often inebriated fans = prostitution explosion.
In Sydney before the 2000 Olympics, Athens in 2004 and Germany for the 2006 World Cup, news features highlighted the arrival of increased sex workers to service the influx of fans.
However, with an estimated one in two prostitutes working in South Africa being HIV-positive, the arrival of a financial bonanza for the sex industry here could be quickly followed with a spike in infection rates.
FIFA disputes that it has not taken the situation seriously.
In a statement reported by local newspaper on Monday, FIFA rebuffed the charges made by the members of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), saying that AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns were already planned for FIFA stadiums and “Fan Zones” (public squares where games will be broadcast for thousands of ticketless fans).
“Neither FIFA nor the Organizing Committee for the FIFA World Cup have blocked activities like HIV counseling and testing,” said the statement. “FIFA can confirm that it has encouraged the host cities, as main organizers of the FIFA Fan Fests, to install a Fan Service Area where not only basic medicines and condoms can be distributed for free.”
FIFA did not respond to repeated requests for comment from NBC News.
Activists strike back On Tuesday morning, AIDS organizations struck back, saying that FIFA’s statement was inconsistent with the reality on the ground. They also claimed that FIFA is charging exorbitant prices to broadcast public service announcements at Fan Zones and is charging AIDS organizations for the right to distribute condoms at World Cup sites.
They also said that FIFA had only just woken up about the AIDS situation. Richard Delate, country program director for Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa, told NBC News that his agency and other partner members of SANAC had been working in vain over the past year to start talks with FIFA about AIDS awareness campaigns for the World Cup. So it came as a surprise, he said, when FIFA’s statement came out declaring a plan for condom and health awareness information distribution.
“We went out and fact-checked that claim with the major condom suppliers in South Africa and they said they had received a phone call from FIFA on Monday,” said Delate, who noted that this was soon after the official FIFA statement came out.
“What has begun is a process that will allow condoms to be distributed during the Word Cup. As of right now though, there is no distribution plan, no plan for access to FIFA sites, no access to control areas.”
Furthermore, while FIFA’s statement that a Johannesburg-based organization called Right to Care would be allowed to distribute at FIFA Fan Zones, they, like other SANAC groups, were paying for that right.
“I spoke to the Right to Care people today,” said Delate. “They have paid for space at Fan Zones in Soweto, Sandton and Pretoria.” He added that his organization had access to two parks and FIFA had offered them access to a third park, but that they simply didn’t have the budget for it.
South African football enthsiasts dance during the official unveiling of a giant poster picturing former South African President Nelson Mandela holding the World Cup trophy on the Mandela bridge in Johannesburg on Friday.
JOHANNESBURG – Earlier this week, our NBC News crew was shooting students milling around outside Nelson Mandela’s home in the heart of Soweto when cameraman Kyle Eppler turned to me between shots and remarked, "I don’t feel the energy here yet."
It was an uncomfortable thought that had been nagging at me for much of my, albeit short, time here in South Africa, but one I dared not share with anyone.
Please don’t interpret this to mean unpreparedness for the World Cup on the part of the South African Organizing Committee or disinterest on the part of the people here. On the contrary, everything you associate with a major sporting event – signage, shiny new public works, national flags flying proudly over cars, fans breathlessly discussing the latest sporting news – all those things are prominently on display in Johannesburg.
Yet, here we were in the townships of Johannesburg, the proverbial heart of soccer in this country, and something seemed to be missing.
Nervous tension and electric buzz – the key elements that seemingly whip through communities as start of a big event approaches felt absent.
For someone who has been in cities like San Francisco before the start of the ill-fated 1989 Bay Bridge Series, Boston before its 2004 World Series win and Beijing before the 2008 Olympics, I’m familiar with that feeling of excitement that can capture a city.
But my hangdog perception of the World Cup experience so far was shattered today after discovering perhaps the most simple, but singularly unifying event: Football (soccer) Fridays.
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Wear yellow – or watch out! In an effort to encourage South Africans to support the national team, known locally as "Bafana Bafana," or "the Boys," and the tournament as a whole, the government announced the creation of the first Football Friday in September 2009.
Since then, every Friday has become an opportunity for South Africans of all stripes to go to work in yellow national team jerseys, blow vuvuzelas (long horns) and attend special concerts and shows across the country.
On the final Football Friday before the start of the World Cup, all the stops were pulled out and the city appeared to be on the verge of full celebration mode.
On a visit to popular talk radio station Kaya 95.9, staffers resplendent in their Bafana Bafana jerseys danced to high octane dancehall reggae blasting over the office speakers while popular radio host Kgomotso Matsunyane grilled a line-up of eager female (and a few surprised male) callers on their picks for hottest soccer stars.
"I got the green, but I can’t wear green every Friday. ... My laundry cycle doesn’t go that quick!" piped the show’s sports announcer, referring on air to his noticeably absent jersey before being shouted down by the rest of the morning DJ team.
As far as the Kaya 95.9 radio team was concerned, the absence of yellow and green on Fridays was tantamount to mutiny and punishable by open mockery.
Tangled portraits, dancing mayors A few blocks away from Kaya’s offices, a more dignified celebration kicked off as Nelson Mandela’s portrait was unveiled high above the eponymous bridge in downtown Johannesburg by longtime Mayor Amos Masondo.
I’ve attended many similar ribbon-cuttings working in China. There, these types of formal events are usually long on stiffness and short on levity as a careful script is followed by dignitaries soberly reading prepared speeches while citizens dutifully stand by and applaud until the ribbon is cut.
After a little prodding from one of his advisers, the mayor hopped down into a surging crowd and put on a dancing exhibition that belied his stature as the leader of Africa’s richest city.
It was only then, watching the onetime 2008 finalist for Mayor of the Year shake his booty and having the time of his life dancing with dozens of his constituents that I sheepishly realized that the buzz and excitement I had sought all week had been right in front of me all along.
I had been so caught up seeking the grandiosity, the pomp and circumstance that a country like China was able to pull off with such success in 2008, that I had lost sight of the people and country I had come ostensibly to cover.
Portrait unveiling mishaps, world-class stadiums, security issues and line-dancing mayors – Johannesburg is a big city with a small town temperament and global aspirations.
To seek the spectacle of so many major global sporting events of the past is to ignore the greatest asset South Africa will bring to this World Cup: everyday people earnestly passionate about this beautiful game.
JOHANNESBURG – The array of statistics South African officials have been touting in the lead up to the start of the World Cup on June 11 has certainly been impressive.
Fifty-five thousand new police officers, $88 million in new police equipment, the largest deployment of Interpol officers in the organization's history and up to eight police officers from each of the 31 visiting teams in country to assist in crime prevention.
Yet, despite the heavy investment in South Africa's defense infrastructure, this cup-crazed country has found itself facing fresh criticism over its security preparations on the eve of the big event.
South Africans were hit with a bombshell when a Johannesburg paper article reported that members of the U.S. Congress had been briefed on credible threats of attacks being planned by terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Somalia based, al-Shahaab.
The report said that operatives from militant organizations had trained in terror camps in northern Mozambique may have already infiltrated South Africa and were poised to strike World Cup matches and events.
South Africa's top security officials were quick to dismiss the claims of a terrorist threat and expressed confidence in the revamped security force being rolled out.
Domestic crime Whether the new revelations are enough to sway travelers to abandon their World Cup plans remains to be seen. But it is just another blemish on South Africa's desperate bid to change the perception of the country as a rough and tumble place unsafe for such a massive global event.
Recent statistics demonstrate that public perception is not far from the truth.
Statistics released by the South African Police Service showed that between April 2008 and March 2009, this country of 48 million million people had 18,148 murders and 70,514 sexual crimes. By comparison, the United States, with a population of 300 million, had 14,180 murders and 89,000 sexual crimes in 2008.
That means almost 50 murders are committed each day in South Africa. Yet, in the most recent State of the Union address by President Jacob Zuma in February, crime was only mentioned three times in his speech and no concrete prevention strategy was mentioned, much to the frustration of many South Africans.
The widespread perception of how commonplace violent crime is here may be far more damaging to the 2010 World Cup then any terrorist threat. People who live here are so used to the ubiquitous crime that they speak of it as something that can’t be avoided, only confronted.
At a popular watering hole in Johannesburg's suburb of Melville over the weekend, long-time patrons watched highlights of last week's South Africa vs. Columbia friendly match and offered player profiles over the dull groan of thousands of horns from the TV.
When discussion shifted inevitably to the front page news of the day about terrorist threats, opinions divided sharply over the veracity of those reports. However, all were quick to drive discussion away from terrorist threats to everyday crime. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 55,000 additional police quickly became the butt of many complaints.
"Fifty-five thousand new police and I still get nervous if I have to walk home alone late at night" moaned one area resident working on a World Cup project. Another long time resident wondered aloud “Fifty-five thousand, but where are they?”
Indeed, driving extensively through the famously poor area of Soweto and Soccer City – the site of one of the beautiful new stadiums South Africa has erected for the World Cup – it is difficult to sense any significant police presence, a sentiment confirmed by longtime residents of Johannesburg.
Yet, despite the pervasiveness of crime here and the looming threat of terrorist threat, it seemed that night nobody at the bar was deterred from their belief that this World Cup was going to be the biggest, most successful party in African history.