Mixed review for South Africa's Cup

Published Jul. 12, 2010 6:31 p.m. ET

It is the question that has dogged every World Cup since 1930.

Was the host nation the right one at the right time?

Mexico was supposedly wrong in 1970 because of high altitude. Argentina in 1978 was supposedly wrong because the country was run by a military junta and people were disappearing. And the United States was supposedly wrong in 1994 because, well, it was not really a soccer nation, and many would argue that it still isn't.

To be fair to FIFA, while it does get many things wrong and has turned the World Cup into an ugly circus of commerce, it usually does well when selecting tournament host nations.

Jacob Zuma, the South African president, has already given the tournament his blessing (well, he would wouldn't he). That is why he now wants a South African city to bid for the 2020 Olympic Games. But is he right to be so enthusiastic?

Yes ... and no.

South Africa 2010 has been a great tournament if you don’t mind cold weather, a pathetic transport system, overpriced hotels, lax security at stadiums, awful food at the matches, and that rare phenomenon at World Cups but a common sight here -- unsold tickets.

On the other hand, the pre-tournament fears that soccer fans would be murdered in droves has turned out to be the biggest mistake since Sepp Blatter’s parents said to him, “Now son, how about a career in football administration?”

Where South Africa was in control, South Africa usually delivered until the Durban semifinal fiasco.

The stadiums are magnificent, not least the big beast in Soweto known as Soccer City. Not since the Azteca in Mexico City in 1986 has a World Cup final stadium been so appropriate for such a match.

The security situation has been strange. While no foreigner has been murdered and only a handful of journalists have been mugged, local policemen found it difficult to distinguish between ruthless touts and genuine fans looking to buy tickets. And, as one England fan proved, it was easy to get into a team’s dressing room -- just pretend you’re looking for a toilet.

The transport system has been less than impressive. Omens were not good from the moment, on the opening day, four-hour tailbacks made attending the South Africa-Mexico match at Soccer City an act of patience. There was barely a train system worthy of the name.

And fans using the park-and-ride system were forced to get to stadiums hours before kickoff, thereby forcing them to quaff the overpriced food and beverages. The locations of the venues, save Durban and Cape Town, didn't help matters either as they were not ideally situated.

The weather at most matches (Durban exempted) ranged between cool and freezing. For those of us who believe that a World Cup should be a summer event, it was a sobering experience to attend the Brazil-North Korea match wearing three coats and a hat and still be freezing.

Of course, no country should be precluded from hosting a World Cup because it is in the wrong hemisphere, but let’s at least stage the majority of matches in the day when it is warmer.

The atmosphere was great outside the stadiums, friendly inside, but hindered by the vuvuzelas. For sure, they sound great on television, but try sitting in the stadium next to somebody using one of the wretched things. They sound horrible and they drown out any hopes of foreign fans singing in support of their team.

The hotel situation was dire. FIFA, as always, block-books hotels for its own benefit, which drives prices up and means that many visitors have nowhere to stay. How crazy it was to find, at Johannesburg Airport, the “Accommodation” kiosk advising foreigners that there was nowhere to stay.

And then there was the “Transportation” kiosk saying to visitors, “Well, there are no buses or trains to the stadium, but you could get a taxi, just take out a second mortgage."

Yeah, thanks for the advice!

No doubt that Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, and Jacob Zuma will shout from the rooftops about how great this World Cup has been. And, for the most part, South Africa has been good and accommodating hosts.


But Blatter and Zuma did not have to worry about accommodation, transport, the weather, the wretched stadium food, the security situation, buying a ticket, or sitting next to a clown with a vuvuzela.

Nick Webster is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com.